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The Descent

Definitely one of the year's most satisfying genre pieces, the British import should have jumpy audiences squealing like a pig, just like they did when "The Descent" was released overseas -- it opened in the U.K. 13 months ago -- to considerable critical and financial success.

The picture, which hits North American shores with a slightly different ending, should pull in some decent coin for Lionsgate, building nicely on the horror cred established by the likes of the "Hostel" and "Saw" franchises.

Both versions waste little time in bringing on the shock value when a rafting trip undertaken by a group of girlfriends ends with a terrible car accident.

Still recovering a year later from the deaths of her husband and daughter, a shaky Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) nevertheless agrees to join her friends on another extreme expedition -- spelunking in a decidedly remote portion of the Appalachian Mountains.

Unbeknownst to the others, the trek's fearless leader and Sarah's best friend, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), has deliberately chosen a cave system that's not in the guide books, ostensibly so that they can claim it as their own.

But after falling rocks block their only known way out, they also discover that not only are they not alone in the complete darkness, but they're being stalked as prey by a clan of subterranean humanoid creatures with healthy appetites.

In short order, the initial descent undertaken by Sarah, Juno, Beth (Alex Reid), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), punky Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) and Sam (MyAnna Buring) spirals into one of madness as the body count begins.

Writer-director Marshall, who earned a cult following with his 2002 first feature, "Dog Soldiers," expertly maps out those raw nerve endings while creating credible characters who speak and act like real people rather than the usual horror archetypes.

With the feverish claustrophobia well established, he then lets special makeup and effects designer Paul Hyett loose with those savage, slimy, blind, translucent "crawlers" that somehow bring to mind the late Klaus Kinski in a particularly unpleasant mood.

Further boosting that nightmarish feeling of dread are production designer Simon Bowles' dank, spray resin caves erected at Pinewood Studios and director of photography Sam McCurdy, who industriously works his way around those limited light sources.

Director-screenwriter: Neil Marshall
Producer: Christian Colson
Executive producer: Paul Smith
Director of photography: Sam McCurdy
Production designer: Simon Bowles
Editor: Jon Harris
Costume designer: Nancy Thompson
Special make-up and effects designer: Paul Hyett
Music: David Julyan
 Sarah: Shauna Macdonald
 Juno: Natalie Mendoza
 Beth: Alex Reid
 Rebecca: Saskia Mulder
 Sam: MyAnna Buring
 Holly: Nora-Jane Noone
 Paul: Oliver Milburn
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