Tagged Visuals

The Descent: Female Driven Psychological Horror

The Descent. 2005. Directed & Written by Neil Marshall.
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Craig Conway, and Leslie Simpson. Celador Films/Northmen Productions/Pathé.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.

Personally I’ve enjoyed Neil Marshall from his debut, Dog Soldiers, and then he came on with this film and it all but cemented him as a solid horror filmmaker; hell, filmmaker in general. Since then he’s done two underrated movies – Doomsday and Centurion, neither of which are amazing, though, they are better than their reputations – a couple episodes of Black SailsGame of Thrones, and one whopper of a Hannibal episode in the 3rd season “The Great Red Dragon“. He’s also got a segment titled “Bad Seed” in the upcoming Tales of Halloween I cannot wait to see!
What I enjoy about Marshall is that he’s not just a director with a neat way of looking at things, he’s also, what I think is, a pretty wonderful director in terms of form; he simply films things in an interesting way. There’s nothing boring about his films or the episodes of television series’ he has directed. The reason so many filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre I must say, fail to really get over with their work is because their style is either a) too bland in terms of story/character/et cetera, b) too flashy (with no substance), or c) it’s just not overly enjoyable to experience visually. With Marshall, and I’ll single The Descent out from his work as the best example, he doesn’t opt so much to jump scare you here in order to create that feeling of action, or horror (or whatever he happens to be going for at the moment). His visual style helps to keep you rooted and then everything else just builds on – the drama, the horror, the suspense and tension. In this film, there’s plenty of imagery, a good lot of horror, and the characters help make things fun (even in the grim sense). Marshall’s movie can easily be considered as one of my top 10 horror movies since 2000, I’ll say that without hesitation.
vlcsnap-2012-10-15-17h08m59s91A trio of friends – Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Beth (Alex Reid), and Juno (Natalie Mendoza) go rafting on the river; their idea of vacationing. On the way home, Sarah sits in the passenger seat of a vehicle while her husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) drives, and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) sits in the backseat. All of sudden, though, they meet head-on with another vehicle – Sarah survives, but Paul and Jessica are horribly killed.
One year later, Sarah, Beth, and Juno, along with a bunch of other adventure seeking women, go on an expedition to a cave system in the Appalachians, somewhere in the U.S. Deep in the woods they eventually find their cave, making their way in. However, after a little while things start to get dicey. First, their climb starts to go wrong little by little. But then soon enough it’s apparent to the women they aren’t alone in the caves.
Deep underground, stuck beneath the vast and reaching Appalachians, the group of friends find themselves in a fight for their lives against terrifying, human eating monsters, adapted to their environments below the earth. They’ll have to fight hard in order to make it out alive; if that’s even possible.
the-descent-cavethe-descent-claustrophobiaSo for me, and no doubt many others, what makes The Descent so incredibly effective is the sense of isolation and claustrophobia almost built into the setting. Furthermore, once the women get trapped after a tunnel caves in, this gets even worse as – plot point – Juno (Mendoza) has taken them all into an unknown cave, not in the correct system they’d all planned on, and so essentially even without any outside forces these women might have never made it out of the caves regardless. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts about this film is that you could easily have seen this as simply a dramatic thriller about a bunch of women heading into the caves, including the dynamics between Sarah (Macdonald) and Juno, in terms of what happened to the former and her family and how it connects with the latter.
Instead of being simple and dark, Neil Marshall has written a fantastic screenplay. Whereas a movie like The Cave (which I honestly enjoy as a popcorn flick even though it isn’t great) is lower common denominator for horror, more like a Michael Bay equivalent in the genre, The Descent opts to be more cerebral, and in turn when the visuals and the horror get thick things become pretty visceral, too. The characters here are complex, they aren’t one-dimensional type women. Which is another point, that Marshall has given us a bunch of excellent female characters and the man character, dare I say the heroine, she’s an ass-kicker. I like that it’s not the typical formulaic horror including women, such as the male dominated film with a “Final Girl”. Even though, yes, Sarah can be considered that “Final Girl”, it’s not the overused scenario, the same tired place where we’ve expected the plot to develop. Marshall brings all these women together, each different, and doesn’t need any men in order to instigate the horror, or any of the action. The faceless/featureless crawlers in the cave only bring further terror. Even while that whole KILLER V. VICTIM dynamic is playing out, as it usually does in one shape or another throughout the horror genre, I like that these female characters can inhabit a filmic space where these featureless monsters are the attackers, not some slasher, a deranged male who hates women; rather they’re simply the horror beneath, the unknown below.
More than that, these creatures also represent a symbolic sort of theme. Clearly the buried secrets between Juno and Sarah, concerning the former’s relationship with the deceased Paul (Milburn), are being unearthed; it’s possible without their predicament, the descent into the cave and into madness, this might never have come out. So in a way, these crawlers down in the cave are the literal, material embodiment of the ideas surrounding those buried secrets. They say secrets can eat you alive, right? Well in The Descent, this sentiment comes alive, in a brutally literal sense with secrets making their way out of the realm of ideas and into reality.
1200x1000px-LL-9b3ed840_ScreenShot2013-11-25at9.17.40PMThere are a few wonderful bits of imagery in this film, both in terms of symbolic/dreamy images and straight up horror visuals.
Right after the opening sequence, where Sarah’s husband/daughter die, there’s the beginning of a dreamy moment which crops up over and over, though not to overkill. Sarah has these short visions of a birthday cake with her daughter’s name on it, the candles lit up – I love the way these shots come to us, brief, really dark with what looks like natural lighting, and it has this eerie quality to it. What I enjoy is that these dreamy bits don’t feel particularly happy, more like the morbid remembrance of a dead child instead of anything happy. So there’s this really melancholy feeling I find struck in the character of Sarah without even much effort from Macdonald as an actor, although she’s great in spite of that making the role better for it. This is a striking visual Marshall uses a few times throughout the film, and while I say it’s melancholy there’s still part of it which sort of drives Sarah at the same time. Great, great stuff.
When it comes to the horror of Marshall’s film, several scenes and moments stick out ahead of the pack. I love how Marshall includes the first very close-up view of a crawler through the perspective of a camera in night vision. Why do I love it? He doesn’t use the camera as a gimmick other than, really, two or three times in the entire movie. It comes into play organically, with purpose, instead of simply being a way for Marshall to creep us out without doing the legwork. In opposition, the choice uses of the night vision camera shots make things creepy, knocking us off balance and in the case of the first time it’s used the effect amps the film’s pace up to a roar. The next couple times, again it’s not forced into the plot and works well. If the night vision was being used more frequently, as is the case in many found footage efforts trying to capture The Blair Witch Project magic in a bottle, there’d be a case for saying it was gimmicky, that it served no purpose and got jammed in for lack of ideas. Instead, Marshall uses this technique to his advantage and creates tension with how the handheld camera captures the monsters in the dark and the creepy environment of the cave. Plus, this is a director who doesn’t need any kind of trickery, he does well enough with his own sensibilities in terms of shot composition and overall visuals without having to settle for cheap scares.
descent-2005-09-gOnce the crawlers are out in the open, being seen full-on by both characters and viewers alike, there are some almost trippy visuals happening. There’s one incredibly tense scene where two of the women are hiding together, a crawler moving along by them, and their watch eventually goes off – all the while Juno is wandering alone, calling out to the others – and there’s this green filter over the two women/crawler (not really a filter; they’re using a huge glow stick), then for a few seconds we cut to Juno whose shot is bathed in a red light. There’s something about this which raises the tension. Not only that, the angles at which Marshall has things framed specifically while the two women hide from the crawler, it’s an unsettling, unstable sort of feeling it draws out; literally, the frame is askew, we’re off-kilter, not balanced, and the crawler coming at them sort of feels like he’s coming right at the viewer.
Furthermore, I have to say the effects – blood and gore, the monsters, et cetera – were at times really subtle, and other times (think: pool of blood scene) totally gnarly and in-your-face. My favourite honestly is the scene where Sarah finds herself in the blood pool, fighting off the crawler and stabbing it in the eye. Not only is it just wildly savage and bloody, the low lighting and the blood casts everything again in that red glow, so you’ve got two types of imagery – very visual in the sense of colour and visual in the way of actual physical nastiness, the blood and kills.
Overall, though, it’s the way Marshall manages to use the darkness to his advantage and he doesn’t make it dizzying. While some horror, mostly found footage these days, has your head swirling with the darkness too often being used to cover up a project’s low budget (or lack thereof), unless used correctly, Marshall manages to make things claustrophobic but doesn’t annoy us with how he accomplishes this feeling. It’s because, even when shots are frantic and full of chaos, he’s not making it seem so by having the camera itself being shaky, only the characters, their lights in the dark create the effect. He keeps in tight to the characters, putting us with them and in their perspective as much as possible without, for instance, putting us right in their video camera’s view while they run from the crawlers. Again this comes back to Marshall using that video camera perspective sparsely, when a lesser director may have exploited it too much to try and immerse the viewer. The way this film plays out in the dark and uses it appropriately is a big part of its effectiveness as a tensely frightening modern horror movie.
thedescent1With truck loads of horror, both blood/gore and emotional terror, an impressive visual style, a solid script with real and well-written female characters, Neil Marshall’s The Descent is pound for pound a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There’s very little to say, in my mind, against this movie. There are so many other horror movies out there in the post-2000 landscape of film which go for bargain basement plots, silly characters with even sillier and less thought out dialogue, cheap jump scares and pointless (as well as badly done) gore. Marshall doesn’t do anything typically here, he crafts a genuinely scary, emotionally testing and at various points traumatizing horror. There’s a feeling in me each time I watch this, for a little while afterwards, as if I’ve been through an ordeal. It’s one of the closest experiences I’ve personally had to the one I have when viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is still my pick for scariest horror movie ever made, and pretty much my top favourite.
So if you’ve not yet seen The Descent, do yourself a favour and search it out soon because it’s worth your while to experience its dread and tension, its inescapable horror and wild plot. I also thought the sequel was an all right movie, though, it’s not near as amazing as this one.

Far Cry 4 – PS3 Review

Far Cry 4. 2014.  Directed by Alex Hutchinson and Patrik Methe.  Soundtrack composed by Cliff Martinez.  Featuring the voice work of Grace Lynn Kung, Shawn Ahmed, Naveen Andrews, Shawn Baichoo, Troy Baker, Emerson Brooks, and Mylene Dinh-Robic.  Ubisoft Montreal.  Rated – Mature.  Action/Thriller – First Person P.O.V.

Overall Game Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Replay Value: 4/5 stars
Visuals: 5/5 stars
Dialogue: 4/5 stars
Music: 4/5 stars


I’ve never reviewed any video games, so this may not read like a typical video game review.  However, I really loved Far Cry 3, and this installment didn’t disappoint.  Although many aspects of this game were similar, if not straight up identical, to those of its predecessor, the storyline here is fun and wild enough to keep any true fan of the previous game a fan of this one.

Far Cry 4 gives us the story of Ajay Ghale, a young Kyrati-American who heads back to his homeland to spread his mother’s ashes.  Now under control of Nepal, Kyrat is ruled over by the strange and exotic Pagan Min.  The Golden Path, a guerilla group of fighters, tries to free Kyrat and fight Min.  Ajay is thrust into the middle of everything, and forced to figure out who will lead the Golden Path, or who may end up destroying it all.
Everything begins with Ajay on a bus, as it is attacked by the Royal Army under rule of Pagan Min.  Ajay is taken prisoner; Min claims to have been involved with his mother, Ishwari.  Sabal, one of the leaders in the Golden Path, helps free Ajay.  This is where things take off.
Alex Hutchinson claims the campaign goes for about 35 hours.  I definitely played it awhile.  I can’t say for sure how many hours off the top of my head, but definitely a nice long time.  The campaign certainly took a bit of playing.  Although, I really like to go around and do all the little things available around the island from the hostage missions to races; so many different options even outside the campaign.  One of the things I love about the previous game and this one as well.

Once again, Far Cry 4 is an absolute adrenaline rush of a first-person shooter.  Like the previous game, it is fairly innovative, as far as I’m concerned.  I love the open world format here.  You get to take over outposts and complete missions, which lowers the level of difficulty on larger castles and complexes around the island; once you’ve lowered their defenses enough, you can attack, and take things over.  This provides you with more Fast Travel points to help quicker navigation across the island.  Also, you can buy and trade items here – you fill up your Loot Sack just like in Far Cry 3, full of random items you gank off dead soldiers and furs of various animals you can hunt all throughout the island – then sell it all off at the outposts.  Same format as before.  Except here now there are the castles/fortresses, whatever you want to call them; that is a little different, slightly, but an extra touch nonetheless.
2624172-fc4_gamescom_injured_tiger_conceptOne of my favourite aspects about Far Cry 4 overall is the trip, or should I say several trips, to the mystical, beautifully magical lands of Shangri-La; the fictional utopia similar to the Tibetan hidden kingdom of Shambhala.  You get to do some wild stuff by accessing scrolls hidden throughout the landscape of Kyrat.  Once there, you make friends with a majestic white tiger, whom you’ve freed from its earthly pain.  You kick the ass of some creepy spirit-like beings, free the bells of Shangri-La, and it is just dripping with visual gorgeousness!  I loved every second of it.  There are several bells you need to release.  Each challenge is greater and more difficult than the last.

Other fun little treats include: the buzzer.  I loved this method of transportation.  It’s like a homemade, makeshift helicopter one-seater.  You can fly up above the forest trees and get to some hard to reach places.  Not to mention zipping around the island fairly quickly without needing to resort to the Fast Travel options.  Me, I like as much uninterrupted gameplay as possible, so the buzzer was very convenient for me – I hop in one of those and I am off.  It’s great for flying in on some of the spots where you need to help rebels fight off the Army; you just drop down a little over the group, hop off your buzzer, and start slaying fools.  It really is great fun.
Far Cry® 4_20141118211016One chief complaint I have is the driving.  I really did not like the driving in this game.  I can’t remember Far Cry 3 frustrating me as much in regards to the driving, but here it really made me crazy.  The buzzer wasn’t so bad; I didn’t have to make too many hard cut turns or anything in the air.  On land with the cars and trucks, damn, did it ever get me mental at times the way it would make it really hard to use both sticks at once.  I’m usually pretty good, but here it really threw me out of whack, I have got to say.  It didn’t ruin anything – I was able to keep everything under control when needed.  I just wish it wasn’t such a pain because there were times I specifically avoided driving a car or truck whenever at all possible.

The campaign in the game was a ton of fun.  If you enjoyed the last one, you’ll surely dig this one, too.  Very cool main mission stuff, as well as some side missions where you get to take hallucinogenic drugs and blow through the landscape to test their effects; a maniac named Hurk has you extracting valuable statues out of high risk areas; you choose between Amita and Sabal who each have their conflicting vision of where the Golden Path should be headed.  There is certainly enough in the campaign alone to keep fans interested, as far as I’m concerned.

Overall, Far Cry 4 is a pretty great gaming experience.  The campaign and gameplay are out of this world.  I’m not a huge fan of some of the dialogue, in terms of how repetitive island characters are – I don’t expect them all to have a different speech to give or anything.  I just found it repetitive to a fault.  I couldn’t handle it after awhile.  There also isn’t as much replay value here as there was in the previous game.  I could definitely play it over, but there isn’t as much as I found with Far Cry 3.  While the story was excellent, I wasn’t particularly itching to get back at it once finishing my first run through like I was after finishing up the campaign in its predecessor.  One other particular aspect worth mentioning is the voice work; a few familiar names both in the video game world, as well as film and television.  They really pulled off some fun characters.  Troy Baker specifically is always enjoyable; here he plays the eccentric Pagan Min.  All actors did a wonderful job with the voice work.  Very impressed on that level.

The last problem I have here is with the soundtrack.  Although Cliff Martinez was involved here, I was not exactly impressed.  Far Cry 3 had a really whopping soundtrack – it was awesome because the real pounding music would kick in on the missions just like it would in a film – that really made an impact.  Though I certainly enjoyed the music here, it was nowhere near on the level of what the previous game had going on.  Too bad, as Cliff Martinez is an amazing composer, and has done music for a few films I really thought was spectacular.  Here, his talents are wasted.  The music was good.  It just wasn’t as good as it had the possibility of being.
Far-Cry-4-Balance-Of-Power-Guide-Amita-Or-SabalI suggest all fans of Far Cry 3 check this out – judge for yourself.  There are definitely some new things here, mainly the story [I’m glad they didn’t try to extend the last one or rehash things too much in another setting], but you get a lot of solid gameplay consistent with the previous game.  This keeps things exciting.  It doesn’t try to innovate too much.  Instead, it sticks with a familiar formula while trying to add in a few bits and pieces to create something unique on its own.  I think one of the biggest things Far Cry 4 has going on for it is the fact there is a lot of fun stuff happening – you can just go out and do a lot of weird , wild stuff, have a ball – it doesn’t have to be too serious.  But then again, the storyline is pretty intense, so if you want serious, you can certainly have it.

Highly recommended.  Definitely one of my best gaming experiences in 2014.