Actress Shauna Macdonald remembers dodging cave-dwelling demons in this all-female fright fest
The scariest film of the early aughts is The Descent – more pop-outs than an outie bellybutton convention, just-been-winded feelings of breathless, lung-aching claustrophobia, and just try and look at a cave, tunnel or dark hole in the same way again post-watch. I dare you. Neil Marshall's cave-dwelling horror has been slated into list after list after list of the most spine-chilling, horrifying, blood-curdling films of all time. And for good reason. The premise is simple: Sarah's (Shauna Macdonald) husband and child die in a car crash, and exactly one year later, she reunites with her gal pals for a fun weekend of caving! However, the cave system they enter turns out to be much 'darker' than expected, as they find themselves hounded by strange demons and crushing caverns. Nine years later, lead actress Shauna Macdonald recalls how creeped out she was filming and how Neil Marshall's decision to cast all females pushed the horror genre into new territory.
"I think (director Neil Marshall) did a really clever job with casting six unknown girls. He also made sure we had a lot of bonding. There were two weeks set aside for climbing, whitewater rafting, offroad driving and just going out and getting a bit drunk to make sure that we all had an amazing time. It seemed to take an awful long time before we actually got on set. We all managed to get on brilliantly well. Sometimes females we are our own worst enemy, but he managed to get the right group of girls together.
By the time we actually started to film, we felt like we’d known each other a very long time. If you’ve ever gone climbing or caving, you’ll know that you bond fairly rapidly to the person who's holding your rope in those life and death situations. It was fantastic to have this kickass film with girls. The girls were allowed to be physically strong, which I really like. I hate seeing pathetic women running away from scary men with knives. I just think that’s wrong for so many reasons."
“I hate seeing pathetic women running away from scary men with knives. I just think that’s wrong for so many reasons” – Shauna Macdonald
"For the whole movie, they kept the crawlers away from us, keeping the actors and the images away. My character sees the crawler first in the film. It's the anticipation – we always thought that Marshall was going to put a crawler in just to capture something. We were always so tense. When the five girls saw the crawler for the first time, it popped up behind Beth's head and the girls absolutely cracked. They shot off the set and ran to the fire exit. It was fight or flight. All this adrenaline and anticipation had been building up for about four weeks and when they finally got to release this they were like, "Arghhhhh!" We actually won an award from Total Film for scariest reveal when the crawler pops up behind Beth’s head."
CRAWLER TO THE CLINIC
"On the penultimate day of filming Craig (Conway), the main crawler, fell off a skateboard. I don’t know why he was on a skateboard but he twisted his ankle really badly and was rushed to hospital dressed as a ghoulish creature in his crawler gear. He gave the nurses a terrific fright! He was writhing around in agony, so there was no time to change. Neil liked to keep information from the actors to get natural reactions. He didn’t tell me that a whole load of gunky crawler saliva was going to fall on to you. He didn’t tell me that he was going to step on your head either. He kept you on your game, he was great."
“I sat in a jacuzzi of blood for at least 24 hours. It was fantastic” – Shauna Macdonald
"I sat in a jacuzzi of blood for at least 24 hours. It was fantastic. They were so paranoid that I was going to get cold that they heated the water. By the end, I’d gone slightly mad. I think I was just dehydrated but I'd gone a bit bonkers. I loved it. When I got out, I was covered in blood and Neil said, 'I want to see that look of madness in your eyes – put your head back, I want a gut wrenching scream.' I thought, 'This is going to be in the trailer.' When you're doing the part of the movie which you know people will remember, it's very exciting."
THE LASTING EFFECTS
"When I saw it for the first time I was a bit stunned, a bit shocked – in a good way. I didn't quite realise the extent to which I was the heroine, in a Sigourney Weaver way; although I'm not comparing us. The images of Sarah covered in blood screaming that are dotted throughout the film – when you’re filming they're fun to do, but you don't realise how it's going to build up. I think the film really resonates because its an all female cast and it’s trying to be as real as we could make it – real people in an unreal situation.
I wouldn't let my kids see it, it’s way too scary for them. But I'm so proud of our work; it's an extraordinary film, it's just so clever. Neil knows how to draw you in and he never lets the rhythm drop for a second, the momentum keeps driving forward. He gave me this crazy gift to tell this crazy story of Sarah on that terrible day that she decided to go caving and it's now a cult movie and I'm part of that cult movie. It still shocks me. I've done a lot of high profile stuff since then, but I think it'll always be this treasure, this little diamond in my career – that I didn't see coming."