The Rift / La Grieta
Juan Piquer Simón
Spain / USA, 1989
Review by Thomas Scalzo
Posted on 14 October 2013
Source Live Home Video VHS
Categories 31 Days of Horror X
Since the dawn of history, humans have been fascinated, and terrified, by the oceans. Early cartographers, fueled by tall tales, and a paucity of facts, populated many of the blank spaces on their maps with humongous and hideous sea creatures. For centuries, such seemingly benign decorations proved exceedingly powerful on our collective imagination, engendering a persistent belief that something horrible lay in wait in the bottomless depths. Even today, despite extraordinary advances in mapping and exploring the ocean floor, we still cannot claim to have uncovered all of the oceans secrets, or experienced all its horrific possibilities. Each Monday this month, we’ll dive into a tale of terror that plunges us far below the horrors of the surface world into the unfathomable fears of the deep.
Nothing’s normal at these depths.
—Lieutenant Nina Crowley
If Snake Plissken were a submarine designer, he would be Wick Hayes: intelligent and resourceful, but burdened with a short fuse and a penchant for defying orders, Wick just can’t help but rankle authority figures. Predictably, when he’s called upon to assist with a submarine rescue operation, he tells the brass where they can put their mission. Just like Snake, though, Wick finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place: the missing sub is Siren I, a high-tech submersible of Wick’s design. Join the rescue team, say the feds, or we’ll blame everything on your faulty specs. Admittedly, having one’s career ruined isn’t quite the same as being injected with a life-threatening toxin, but you get the idea: Wick is backed into a corner. Out of options, Wick grudgingly boards Siren II and prepares for the descent.
Much like the legend of Snake, the mystique of Wick is efficiently established through passing comments made by other characters. Where Plissken is customarily greeted with, “I thought you were dead,” Wick routinely hears, “It’s been a long time.” Without getting bogged down in details, such statements suggest that everyone knows Wick and his reputation. Once aboard Siren II, though, Wick quickly realizes that neither his reputation nor his presence is welcome: the crew holds him responsible for the failures of Siren I, and is not happy about having him around for the rescue operation. Further complicating matters is the presence of Lieutenant Nina Crowley, team science officer, and Wick’s ex. Wick and Nina apparently didn’t split on the best terms, and their unavoidable reunion is not a happy one. After a particularly heated exchange, Nina puts Wick in his place with the biting words, “if you ever grow up, let me be the first to know.” Ouch.
Thankfully, such petty squabbling quickly takes a backseat to the underwater action. Soon after Wick boards Siren II, the sub initiates a test dive, hits an iceberg, loses power, and is forced to set down on a nearby rift in order to carry out repairs. Conveniently, the Siren II sensors indicate that the black box signal from Siren I is emanating from somewhere deep within that very rift. A hasty reconnaissance mission uncovers a huge subterranean cavern, littered with the remnants of a permanent base, a science lab, and some mysterious technical equipment. Clearly the disappearance of the Siren I was no routine accident. But what happened to the crew? And what were they doing down in the cavern? Before anyone can even begin to contemplate an explanation to the mystery, an army of bloodthirsty and genetically modified aqua-monsters attacks the crew, and a firefight for survival begins. Heads explode, limbs are eaten, and the survivors are forced to beat a hasty retreat.
In the hands of an inexperienced cast, such lunacy may well have devolved into outright camp. After all, the characterizations here are paper thin, and there isn’t much by way of intricate narration on which to focus our energies. Once the goofy aqua-monsters start popping out of the cavern walls, and one of the characters utters, “This place is bigger than the Astrodome,” any semblance of a sober, Abyss-style undersea adventure is out the window. Fortunately, we have a troupe of seasoned character actors, including Ray Wise, Jack Scalia, and R. Lee Ermey, to keep things balanced. Each actor manages to instill enough personality and gravity to his respective role that even the most ludicrous scenario is instilled with adequate seriousness. After the team escapes the initial attack and retreats to the sub, for example, it develops that the water supply of the Siren II has been infected with aqua-monsters. As played by Ermey and company, the tension is palpable, the danger real, and our interest as to the fate of these embattled figures is secured.
Though detractors may dismiss the film as little more than a b-grade take on The Abyss, with some tacky, Alien-inspired set pieces thrown in to amp up the horror, Endless Descent should be praised for accomplishing what it sets out to do: tell an entertaining story about fanged aqua-beasts and evil undersea plants attacking a submarine. Sure, the catastrophic implications of humanity’s arrogance are hinted at, as are the ethical implications of DNA fiddling, but Endless Descent never pretends to be a thought-provoking treatise on anything. The goal here is to entertain. And owing to its creative horror setting, enjoyably ridiculous special effects, and a breakneck 79-minute run time to that simply doesn’t have space for dull moments, Endless Descent succeeds admirably.
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