The Descent

Director Neil Marshall, Producer Christian Colson, Celador Films/Pathe - 2005

Won Best British Film at Empire Awards 2005.

Won Best Horror at Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films 2006.

Won British Independent Film at the British Independant Film Awards 2005.

Bowles took the best cave structures from his research accumulated of all the most spectacular cave systems in the world to create something larger and more overpowering to set the action against. This was achieved by building large sets at Pinewood Studios, London with some use of models and a digital matte painting.

To set the action off at the start of the caving adventure the characters face a large entrance cavern which they abseilied into. This mean that at the start of the story they are already terrifyingly deep rather than gradually descending through a tunnel.

Computer generated visual of the Entrance Chamber showing tiny characters abseiling down into the huge cave mouth.

Computer generated visual of the Entrance Chamber showing tiny characters abseiling down into the huge cave mouth.

Screen shot of Cave Entrance model which stood 12 foot high with a waterfall created by pouring a mixture of salt and talcum powder from above the set.

Screen shot of Cave Entrance model which stood 12 foot high with a waterfall created by pouring a mixture of salt and talcum powder from above the set.

The actresses were shot against green screen as if abseiling down into the cave but actually filmed without being lowered. This footage was then added to the model background plate with the characters descending.

The actresses were shot against green screen as if abseiling down into the cave but actually filmed without being lowered. This footage was then added to the model background plate with the characters descending.

Bowles wanted the cave sets to look very dangerous and difficult to move through for the cast but easy for camera crew to work in. Using real caves would have been impracticable and made for very slow filming.

Director Neil Marshall and Bowles agreed that tight, claustrophobic spaces were as important in the action as the huge oversized caverns. Tunnels were built within very solid timber and scaffolding structures so they could reuse the sets by rotating them, laying them on their side and running water through them to make it look like different parts of the cave system.

Calcite stalactites were made form dipped wax, glowing when backlit by the characters torches and headlamps.

Calcite stalactites were made form dipped wax, glowing when backlit by the characters torches and headlamps.

Tunnels getting narrower and narrower forces the cagers to crouch, then crawl then squeeze through hoping to find a way out of the cave system.

Scenes in a deserted American Appalachian mountain cabin were shot on location in Berkhamstead just outside London. The building had the perfect exterior (above) but much work was needed on the interior. 

Scale drawing of interior cladding detail.

Scale drawing of interior cladding detail.

Plans and models were made of the set to discuss. The interior was to be redressed as the living room and three bedrooms. A floating partition was introduced to change the proportions and orientation of the space.

A final shot from the film.

A final shot from the film.

An important scene within the movie takes place when the characters come across a sheer drop and the only way to continue is by climbing across the ceiling to a passageway on the far side. Bowles wanted this set to be very dark, sharp and angular as if they fell they'd surely cut to ribbons. He chose a harsh slate finish for this set. Visuals and models were made as a discussion point for choreographing the stunt work.

Computer generated visual showing a character climbing across the bottomless Canyon George.

Computer generated visual showing a character climbing across the bottomless Canyon George.

This set was built from carved polystyrene. Slots were built into the ceiling for the stunt safety wires to run through. 

This set was built from carved polystyrene. Slots were built into the ceiling for the stunt safety wires to run through. 

This set was designed with no floor to both aid crew access and ensure that the actresses feet were only 8ft off the stage floor when climbing across the ceiling. The continuation of the drop was painted into the shot in post production.

Coloured light used heavily throughout the film, red flares used in this scene.

The Bone Dam was scripted as a cave with a huge pile of animal bones holding back a pool of water. Bowles introduced high pillars of stalagmites growing up out of the highly reflective dark water creating a very alien landscape. 

Visual showing characters climbing over the animal carcasses in the water.

Visual showing characters climbing over the animal carcasses in the water.

Scale model of the set with miniature character.

Scale model of the set with miniature character.

Set built at Pinewood Studios with 50ft by 50ft 1inch pool.

Set built at Pinewood Studios with 50ft by 50ft 1inch pool.

Filming the actresses climbing up into the cave.

Filming the actresses climbing up into the cave.

Model of Bone Chamber set made of a huge pile of human bones. Shot in a dusty atmosphere to pick out true shaft of daylight.

Model of Bone Chamber set made of a huge pile of human bones. Shot in a dusty atmosphere to pick out true shaft of daylight.

Filming with a yellow flare lit.

Filming with a yellow flare lit.

Pool Chamber with 8ft deep tank lit with green snap sticks. Blood Pool surrounded by human and animal carcasses.

Pool Chamber with 8ft deep tank lit with green snap sticks. Blood Pool surrounded by human and animal carcasses.

Entrance Chamber set with waterfall, ferns and moss.

Entrance Chamber set with waterfall, ferns and moss.

50ft square 20ft high Cathedral Chamber set lit with red flares.

50ft square 20ft high Cathedral Chamber set lit with red flares.