Though the horror genre has traditionally been dominated by the Americans, a recent wave in international horror films has served to refresh the tired Hollywood standard. Films from Japan, Australia, and South Korea have challenged the preconceptions of the horror film. Britain, in particular, has produced several clever and interesting horror films in recent years.

The Descent is tense and compelling, deliberate and frantic. The story (six friends become trapped underground and encounter frightening creatures) is simple and the characterisations are sparse, but this pared-down approach helps to increase the tension and claustrophobic nature of the film. There are subtle character and plot touches if you look for them, but director Mitchell never forgots that this film is a horror.

Mitchell is ruthless in the subject matter, as well. I was happily surprised that he wasn’t afraid to put the characters through intensely traumatic experiences; modern horror films are so often unwilling to walk the line between edgy and over-the-top. The Descent finds a good balance between the two.

For the most part the acting is good, though most of it gets lost in the darkness and screams.

I don’t normally comment on the endings of films, to avoid revealing too much. In this case, however, I would suggest seeing the uncut British version of the film rather than the edited American theatrical release. There was a very significant cut made to the ending of the American release that changes the entire tone of the film. The scene removed from the uncut version elevates the film to a whole new level. Both versions will likely be available on the Region 1 DVD release.

The Descent is a sharp, frightening horror film that you shouldn’t watch alone in the dark.