Category Archives: 2005

The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

I want to say nice things about The Descent. Or, more… I wish I could say nice things about The Descent. There are some nice things to say about it–the production values are strong, Marshall’s composition is decent, Sam McCurdy’s photography is good. It’s rarely boring–though it does drag a little. Tedious without being boring. Possibly because the characters are all so unlikable you’re just waiting for them to die off.

The characters are unlikable partially because of director Marshall’s script, partially because of the actors, partially because of Marshall’s “direction” of the actors.

The Descent is about six women who go caving in North Carolina. With the exception of organizer Natalie Mendoza, they’re all either from the British Isles or they’re Scandinavian. They travelled halfway across the globe for this caving trip, because–as the opening of the film recounts–ostensible lead Shauna Macdonald has lost her family in a horrible car accident and she needs to get back to her extreme sports lifestyle.

While horrific, the car accident is also exceptionally contrived. All the character relationships in The Descent are exceptionally contrived. Marshall’s characterizations are razor thin, so having a bunch of bland, sometimes interchangeable actors who he doesn’t give any performance direction contributes a lot to that tediousness I mentioned. Maybe if Macdonald weren’t so wooden. Or Mendoza. But mostly Macdonald. What’s so strange is there are some outliers–Alex Reid, as Macdonald’s BFF, is good. Her character’s still thin, but she’s good. And Saskia Mulder and MyAnna Buring as the Scandinavian sisters are fine. They’re likable. Mendoza, from her first scene, is exceptionally unlikable. Ditto her protege Nora-Jane Noone, though for different reasons. And while Macdonald is supposed to be tragic and sympathetic, it’s in a porcelain doll sense. She’s lost her family, after all.

Something none of the other characters really engage with. Or, in Noone’s case, even seem to know about. Besides Noone, they’re all ostensibly best extreme sports buds. Who have absolutely no chemistry with one another. Mendoza’s an abject sociopath from scene one and there’s no reason anyone–particularly not the characters in the film–would be friends with her, much less trust her to plan a caving trip in Deliverance country.

Noone and Mendoza’s character relationship–and utter lack of onscreen chemistry–is one of Descent’s many deficiencies. Marshall’s script and direction is about moving caricatures from point A to point B. It’s grating.

But The Descent isn’t a Deliverance riff. Well, unless you want to make a lot of mean jokes about Applachian mountain men. See, down in the unexplored cave, the women discover they’re not alone. There are monsters. And so then the women have to inventively–often using their caving gear–fight the monsters.

Marshall borrows action beats from a variety of films–mostly the first couple Alien movies and, thanks to David Julyan’s almost comically derivative score, The Thing. There are some good shots here and there, along with some bad ones (including a jaw-droppingly bad composite), but Marshall, editor Jon Harris, and photographer McCurdy don’t impress. The sets–all the cave interiors are sets–impress. A bit. Not enough to make up for any of the film’s other deficiencies, but they’re good.

Almost anything would’ve improved The Descent. Writing, acting, directing (as far as the performances go). With any of those elements improved, Marshall could’ve been just as derivative and the film would’ve turned out better. Instead, he’s got this derivative film with all sorts of other problems.

Though, really, it’s an absurdly obvious film from the opening titles scene so… none of what follows is actually surprising.

Oh. Right. The lack of jump scares. It seems intentional. At least, I hope it’s intentional. But as a stylistic choice it’s a little weird. They might get the energy up. Nothing else does.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Neil Marshall; director of photography, Sam McCurdy; edited by Jon Harris; music by David Julyan; production designer, Simon Bowles; produced by Christian Colson; released by Pathé Distribution.

Starring Shauna Macdonald (Sarah), Natalie Mendoza (Juno), Alex Reid (Beth), Saskia Mulder (Rebecca), MyAnna Buring (Sam), and Nora-Jane Noone (Holly).


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The Fog (2005, Rupert Wainwright), the unrated version

In Rupert Wainwright’s shockingly inept remake, The Fog doesn’t blow, it sucks.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But The Fog is awful. It’s almost interestingly awful, as Cooper Layne’s screenplay mimics just about every popular mainstream horror movie made in the previous two decades. Since director Wainwright is terrible and not paying attention to the constant ripping off–The Fog, in an impossibly earnest move, rips off the end of The Shining. It’s a rip-off capstone–the movie runs through not just ghost movies and thrillers, Wainwright really wants to be Steven Spielberg.

The script exists to move characters between set pieces. More than once, when the principal actors need to reunite, they just appear nearby. It’s beyond lazy and none of the cast can pull it off, especially not with Wainwright’s direction. There’s not a single good performance in The Fog. At least some of the supporting cast should’ve been tolerable, but no. No one gives a good performance. The “best” performance is Selma Blair. Not because she’s good, but because she’s the only actor who isn’t terrifyingly bad. Leads Maggie Grace and Tom Welling should be hilariously bad, but they aren’t. No one’s willing to laugh at the joke.

Graeme Revell’s music is occasionally almost all right, if a little on the nose. It disappears in the second half, when the more slasher-like action starts.

The special effects are terrible. Wainwright’s composition is terrible. He’s directing for people watching at home. Nathan Hope’s photography doesn’t help things either.

There’s nothing good about this film; it should be far more compelling in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rupert Wainwright; screenplay by Cooper Layne, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Nathan Hope; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Michael Diner and Graeme Murray; produced by Hill, David Foster and Carpenter; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Maggie Grace (Elizabeth Williams), Tom Welling (Nick Castle), Selma Blair (Stevie Wayne), DeRay Davis (Spooner), Kenneth Welsh (Tom Malone), Adrian Hough (Father Malone), Sara Botsford (Kathy Williams), Cole Heppell (Andy Wayne), Mary Black (Aunt Connie), Jonathon Young (Dan The Weatherman) and Rade Serbedzija (Captain William Blake).


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Doom (2005, Andrzej Bartkowiak), the unrated version

Doom may very well be the worst inoffensive film I’ve ever seen. Director Bartkowiak and his crew redefine ineptness in production values. No one does a good job, everyone does something benignly terrible, whether it’s photographer Tony Pierce-Roberts’s blue hue for everything or composer Clint Mansell’s inability to create tension. It’s all bad.

Bartkowiak has absolutely no ambition for the film. It’s a video game adaptation featuring a lengthy sequence where the protagonist (Karl Urban) “plays the game” and the audience watches. The action in that scene, mimicking the video game, is–in terms of content–better than any of the other action sequences. Instead of translating the game’s content to a film medium, Bartkowiak rips off every popular sci-fi action movie since the late seventies and creates a bunch of Mars-centered nonsense.

It’s pointless. Why bother? Because it’s obvious and bad and it’s sort of compelling to see something where no one tries so nothing can go right or wrong. The blue lighting, for example. How much does it matter? Good lighting wouldn’t make the movie any good, just a little bit more competent. Not even better, because the ineptness is the closest Doom gets to charm.

There’s some decent acting from Deobia Oparei and Razaaq Adoti. Bad acting from Richard Brake and Al Weaver. The three leads–Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike and Dwayne Johnson–are sometimes okay and sometimes bad.

Doom is a terrible film. But the script’s inventively derivative enough to keep it moving.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak; screenplay by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, based on a story by Callaham; director of photography, Tony Pierce-Roberts; edited by Derek Brechin; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Stephen Scott; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and John Wells; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Karl Urban (John Grimm), Dwayne Johnson (Sarge), Rosamund Pike (Samantha Grimm), Deobia Oparei (Destroyer), Razaaq Adoti (Duke), Richard Brake (Portman), Al Weaver (The Kid), Brian Steele (Hell Knight), Ben Daniels (Goat), Yao Chin (Mac) and Dexter Fletcher (Pinky).


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Breakfast on Pluto (2005, Neil Jordan)

Breakfast on Pluto starts with talking robins. They’re subtitled, but talking. Robins can talk–or these two robins can talk (they show up from time to time), in which case they just live a long time. Before the talking robins, who director Jordan uses to keep the viewer off balance, the film opens with Cillian Murphy’s protagonist. During the rougher portions of the film, it’s hard not to think they opened with Murphy–playing a transgender woman in sixties and seventies UK–to give some hope the character isn’t going to have a bad end.

For a while, the film seems to be a distant character study, set against the Irish troubles. While Murphy’s life is separate from the troubles, she keeps getting drug into them. Only when the two collide does the film begins to define itself. Before that moment, Pluto is a connected set of vignettes, as Murphy tries to navigate the world, having a series of adventures (some amusing, some devastating) with various people.

The collision reveals–rather grandiosely–subtle insight into the protagonist. The film never shies away from insight as Murphy moves to London to search for her mother; the later revelation is about the film itself. Pluto is incredibly complex. And without talking robins, one might not digest it properly.

Great supporting turns from Ruth Negga, Liam Neeson, Ian Hart and Steven Waddington. Gavin Friday, Brendan Gleeson and Stephen Rea each have extended, fantastic cameos.

Murphy’s spellbinding.

Jordan crafts a spectacular film with Pluto.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Neil Jordan; screenplay by Jordan and Pat McCabe, based on the novel by McCabe; director of photography, Declan Quinn; edited by Tony Lawson; music by Anna Jordan; production designer, Tom Conroy; produced by Alan Moloney, Jordan and Stephen Woolley; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Cillian Murphy (Patrick ‘Kitten’ Braden), Stephen Rea (Bertie), Brendan Gleeson (John Joe Kenny), Ruth Negga (Charlie), Laurence Kinlan (Irwin), Ruth McCabe (Ma Braden), Gavin Friday (Billy Hatchett), Steven Waddington (Inspector Routledge), Ian Hart (PC Wallis), Liam Cunningham (1st Biker), Bryan Ferry (Mr. Silky String), Eva Birthistle (Eily Bergin) and Liam Neeson (Father Liam).


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