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The Descent - Neil Marshall interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Comparisons with Dog Soldiers are sure to follow. But how do you view this - as a help or a hindrance?
A.
In many ways, The Descent is the sister film to Dog Soldiers. There are six women, rather than six men, trapped and facing a common foe, but rather than bond together in the face of adversity, they turn against each other and their relationships disintegrate.
Ever since we conceived of this script idea, there's been a running joke that this film is about six chicks with picks, but that's simplifying it.
It is about six contemporary, adventurous women's physical descent into the depths of the earth on a caving holiday that goes horribly wrong, but it is also about a descent into madness.

Q. How did you decide to do a horror film set in a cave?
A.
I thought it was a fantastic environment that had barely been touched upon in horror films. It's the classic environment. Horror films are best set in the dark and you can't get any darker than that. I also wanted to do something with an all-female ensemble cast which, in an action horror film, is quite unique.

Q. How did you find working with an all-female cast?
A.
It has been an absolute dream. I confess that I went into it cautiously, having worked with pretty much an all-male ensemble cast on Dog Soldiers.
That was a blast, in the bar every night, and I managed to achieve the same atmosphere of collaboration, and a good sense of fun, and a good sense of professionalism, with everyone just mucking in.
These girls are game for anything and on-screen they're just mind-blowing; a really, really solid bunch and it's been a dream to work with them.

Q. Can you talk about the 'crawlers'?
A.
The crawlers are cave men that didn't leave the cave. They've evolved in this environment, over thousands of years and there's a community of them that live down there in families.
They've adapted perfectly to thrive in the cave. They've lost their eyesight, they have acute hearing and smell, and they function perfectly in the pitch black.
They're expert climbers, so they can go up any rock face and that is their world. These girls infringe upon their world, and the crawlers are simply defending their territory.

Q. And what was the inspiration for the crawlers?
A.
That came from the idea that if there were these creatures living under ground, what would they be, where would they have come from? Elements came into the story of finding a cave painting, a prehistoric cave painting, so I thought 'OK, cave men. Well, if they were cave men, what if they actually more human than not?' Because, to me, making them more human makes them more scary. They have human attributes and that's far more terrifying than any fantastical creature.

Q. I believe you kept the crawlers away from the actresses until the moment they were supposed to see them for the first time on-screen. Is this true?
A.
I made a deliberate point of keeping the crawlers away from the girls until they encountered one in the script. I wanted to see what the effect would be, and it really helped build up the tension and anticipation.
They were getting really, really nervous about it. They didn't know what to expect, they hadn't seen any pictures, they had no idea what they were going to look like, and it was a lot of fun playing around with that.
They got really on edge about it, so when we did the take and introduced the crawlers, they just snapped and went running off into the dark screaming.
For weeks they'd been building up this image of these really hard-assed, tough as nails girls, and as soon as a crawler turns up, it's hands in the air and running away like a big bunch of sissies!

Q. You obviously enjoy working within the horror genre?
A.
Horror films are a lot of fun to make and a lot of fun to watch audiences watching. Sitting among an audience watching a good horror film and gauging their reaction, you can hear the fear, you can hear the gasps and the jolts and the screams and the laughs.
It's a very audible reaction that you get and that's very satisfying from a film-maker's point of view. I just love scaring the pants off people.

The Descent: Our verdict

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