The thing about contemporary horror movies is that even when they’re boring and predictable you can’t sleep through them because they’re so damn loud, assaulting the viewer with screeches, thuds, and whacks (overcompensating for nonexistent scares) so frequently that it’s nearly impossible to get any decent shut-eye without being awakened every two minutes by the out-of-nowhere whoosh and splat of a pole impaling someone’s head. And why else would anyone care about The Descent except to enjoy an air-conditioned theater and the prospect of a lazy afternoon nap during the dog days of summer? In a more innocent age such mediocre fright fests were practically designed for this simple pleasure, but now the prevalent misuse of Dolby Surround has made even that a bygone act of individual somatic protest.
Actually, British import The Descent works best at keeping its audience awake when it’s not a horror but an adventure-peril flick: months after the death of her husband and daughter, Sarah attempts to find catharsis in exploring a North Carolina cave with five extreme-sport friends. After things go wrong their attempt to make it out alive becomes truly nerve-racking — Marshall finally turns down the ubiquitous orchestral score to concentrate on the claustrophobic spaces, nearly pitch-black tunnels, and ambient eeriness of his chosen setting.
But then, as if we weren’t forewarned by the dozen first half false alarms and nightmare sequences, cave-dwelling vampire creatures appear and we’re in horror land, with slavish quiet-to-LOUD surprise attacks, incoherent fight scenes, and contrived dramatics (Sarah conquers her fears!). To call the pandering lack of innovation coma-inducing is, sadly, wishful thinking.