First, I think the movie could have done very well by cutting one or two characters. In fact, most movies can benefit from this, but this one in particular seems to suffer because of an excess of people. That's not to say that there's a ton of characters in this movie; Actually, there's only six, but the problem is that the movie spends sooooo much time in "Not Scary Land" that you think you should know the characters just a bit better. It also doesn't help that they're impossible to keep track of. Not only do most of them have pretty generic names, but hardly any of them have any distinguishing features, and they're all wearing spelunking gear, all with the same hat on (can't even see hair color), and all of them are in the dark. Considering that this movie spent a good chunk of it monster-less and trying to establish character, I had to ask "Wait, which one is that again? Is she the doctor or the tall one?" And even after I figured that out, I had no idea who the tall one was, besides tall.
I think a good horror movie should slowly lead into something very horrifying. Actually, I believe the lead-in is vastly more important than the final scare. If anyone's ever seen the opening scene of The Twilight Zone Movie, directed by John Landis (glory be to Landis!), you know what I mean. The prologue is essentially, god, couldn't be more than ten minutes long and all there is to it is two nameless guys talking and some really bad monster effects. But man, that ten-minute scene could be one of the scariest I've ever seen. The script reads like an Abbott and Costello bit:
"Hey, you wanna see something really scary?"
"Are you sure?"
"Are you really sure?"
And they just keep going on and on like that, and you know somebody's about to get killed. In the end, there's no "pop", no jump and if I recall correctly, barely any noise, but dammit, that $5 monster mask from Walmart still scares me.
Anyway, the point of that extraordinarily long aside is that the longer you draw the audience into something scary, the scarier it becomes, even if the thing itself is less than terrifying. The Descent (Oh, is that what we're talking about?) spends half its time in some really uncomfortable cave scenes. And when I say "uncomfortable," I mean I had a very strong desire to open a window, the claustrophobia was so bad.
However, even though I spent most of the movie feeling tense, I definitely wasn't afraid that a monster would jump out. Not for a second. I was afraid that the cave would collapse. I was afraid that someone would fall. I was afraid that the flashlights would go out. But the monsters are so non-existent in this part of the movie, that it was impossible to even consider it as an option. There's not even a "Ya know, they say there are cave-dwelling zombies in North Carolina." They briefly touch upon the subject of hallucinations occurring in caves, and as fun as a topic like it is, it really isn't used to its full potential. There is a scene where one woman sees a "Crawler" and everyone regards her as crazy, but five minutes later everyone sees it, so there wasn't enough "crazy factor" in it for me, and that was disappointing. Again, not even a "Hey, did you guys see a clown giving Bill Clinton head down that dark passageway? I could swear I just saw a clown giving Bill Clinton head down that dark passageway?"
And, of course, you can't mention anything about this movie without mentioning the cast. Aside from the Crawlers --who are all at least in the most ambiguous sense -- male, there is an all-female cast. I don't know how I feel about this. I think not good. The two "strong" female characters seem to be stuck on fighting over the same man, which, to me, seems to completely ruin the independent, aggressive characterization. I'm also convinced that the absence of men hasn't completely removed sexual tension from the equation. When asked if she has a man, one of the characters replies, "Oh, I'm a sports fuck like Juno." And in the next scene, Juno is showing this same character how high she can lift her leg in a very "hey, check out my vagoo" kinda way.
Ok, yes, there is a gender role reversal in this movie, but the entire cast still follows the same horror movie stereotypes we've seen numerous times. There's the hubris, the aggressive one, the baby, the one that starts out weak but ends up strong, so on and so on. Making them all female doesn't change necessarily change that. That's all I'm trying to say.
This review is getting kinda long, but I will say that there are still some very scary scenes in here, claustrophobic or not. The logistics in the movie don't really make sense, but sometimes that doesn't really bother people. The movie could've benefited from some sharp lines in the set construction. I think you either understood what I meant by that or you didn't.