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INT: Neil Marshall

08.03.2006by: JimmyO

Ever since the release of DOG SOLDIERS, writer-director Neil Marshall has found success on a cult status. But with his latest film, THE DESCENT, set to hit theatres in the US on August 4th, he is bound to become a major force here in Hollywood. His talent at writing strong, layered characters and his uncanny ability to create tension-filled ďsmartĒ horror movies will certainly put him in the big leagues. Very rarely does a genre flick get the kind of award nominations this has been getting across the pond; including a Best Film nomination at the British Independent Films Awards (BIFAís).

THE DESCENT follows the adventures of a group of women on a daredevil caving trip. As they descend deeper and deeper below the earth they find they are not alone. Yes, this may sound like a ton of other movies but trust me that it transcends way above those films sharing more in common with ALIEN in mood, atmosphere and scaring the living shite out of you. And for once, it ainít all hype. For more on the greatness that is THE DESCENT, check out The Arrowís review.

I was lucky enough to sit down one on one with Neil and talk about THE DESCENT, DOG SOLDIERS and the state of horror today. He was charming, intelligent and really damn funny. This is a guy who believes that a film is all about collaboration and not relying on one manís ego. And after meeting him I have a feeling the man is going to continue making some really fantastic movies. And itís refreshing to meet someone who truly loves the horror genre and respects the folks that support it. And seriously, Iím begging you, go see this movie! You wonít regret it.

Neil Marshall

This is a fantastic script because you really broke down the characters, there are no stereotypes here; these are flesh and blood characters. How did you as a ďguyĒ write these six very smart, very interesting women? How hard was that?

Obviously it was incredibly difficult trying to get it right. It was important to get it right. So first of all I wrote it and rewrote it countless times in order to achieve that. But I also consorted with a lot of women along the way. Friends of mine, other actresses, people like that to get it as authentic as possible to see if we were going in the right direction. And finally when we actually went to shoot the film I was collaborating with the actors themselves and anything that didnít work for them, we just made work, really. So that it would become more like female speech or whatever you would call it.

You mentioned that a couple of times you had to write a scene on a napkin.

Yeah, there was one sceneÖ a really high drama scene that Iíd written. It just wasnít quite working; it was too much dialogue, too much going on. And talking to Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Beth (Alex Reid), we went out the night before and sat in a pub and had a few drinks and we just got a napkin out and we just went, whatís wrong with this scene, how can we make it better. And we wrote the scene on this napkin and the next morning I took it down to the studio and thatís what we shot. And I did get in to trouble with the producer for thatÖ for rewriting the script over night but he kind of backed off and said okay, just go with it. And at the end of the day he was very [pleased] with the results. Iím always getting in trouble with producers and things like that. Thatís kind of an example of the process that we went through.

Letís talk about Dog Soldierís as compared to this one. How was it different? How was it the same?

It was very different in that we were filming in the UK. With Dog Soldiers it was like a big boyís night out; over six weeks in Luxemburg cause we were all staying in the same hotel, it was a bunch of guys with a few girls around. And we were shooting off guns and blowing up houses and stuff like that. So it was a complete guy fest. This was a totally different thing, we were shooting in London. Most of the people were going home every night; we werenít all staying in the same place; but at the same time me and the girls or whatever, we spent a lot of time bonding, drinking and trying to get into character; discuss the whole situation, discuss the film.

They took it all very seriously but there was more or less good fun on set. So there was a lot of difference and a lot of similarities. I was really concerned about how to achieve the same level of camaraderie with a bunch of girls that we had with a bunch of guys in Dog Soldiers. But it actually came very, very easily. They were so committed to the film; so chilled out, sort of just along for the whirlwind; so I guess more similarities than differences at the end of the day.

Thatís cool. Well, with the girls, especially Juno (Natalie Mendoza), she does a lot of ass-kicking in this film. How did they prepare for the fight sequences?

Well, sheís an incredibly physical person anyway which she demonstrates by sticking one foot beside her head when sheís standing on the other foot.

Nice moment by the way, I like that.

Yeah, that was pretty good and no special effects at all. Itís all real. Yeah, she demonstrated that first early onÖ thatís incredibly impressive; we were going to get that in the film somewhere. But in terms of the fight sequences, what I wanted was a raw brutality that didnít look rehearsed and didnít look staged so we didnít really do that much choreography on it. What we said was, to the crawler, your objective is to basically rip her throat out and now your objective is to stop him. And then it was likeÖgo! And what we got out of it was something really frenetic and pretty savage. And the way it was cut together as well really added to that and thatís exactly what I was after.

Well, when youíre watching it you think, these girls go on these adventures, they probably took self defense courses, they probably know their way to survive.

Yeah, absolutely.

And it worked.

But also I just wanted to get down to what would you or I, people who donít have self defense courses, if we were attacked by something, what would we do? It just gets nasty and I thought that was far more in keeping with the nature of the film than having some funky kung fu moves.

And thatís another thing that really worked, these characters are so layered. Thereís no one here thatís really a ďgood guyĒ or really a ďbad guyĒ. They all have good qualities; some of them are just different. Could you talk about that, especially with Juno.

Yeah, for me, I didnít just want good guys or bad guys, I just wanted a bunch of humans who are capable of making mistakes, you know, and have frailties. And Juno is [perfect] for that, sheís mentally strong on one hand, but her weakness, her Achilles heel as it were is just that she kind of lies to cover up things that, she wonít admit sheís capable of making mistakes and that just kind of gets her into worse situations. She thinks she can handle anything and she canít, because sheís only human. And that humility kind of defines itself more in Juno because itís more extreme, but everyone has it. I just wanted to make sure that they were real people.

Letís talk a little bit about the ďcrawlersĒ, where did those guys come from?

Oh, they came from the darkest recesses of my imagination. But they also came from logic. I wanted to have something in the cave with them, I wanted toÖ the cave itself was going to be a character in a sense that youíre going to get to know itís horrors; we have claustrophobia, we have heights, we have drowning, we have all these thingsÖ and Iím going to milk the cave for all it was worth and that would kind of take us half way through the film and then what I wanted to do was; just when you think it canít get any worse, it does.

And thereís something in the cave with them and it was like, okay, where do I go from here? Whatís going to be in the cave with themÖ come up with something, really logical thing here, but I alsoÖ for me, the scariest thing going is human, no monster on earth is nearly as scary as what humans are capable of. And you apply human intelligence and human behavior to something as outlandish as the crawlers, they become scary because of it. So I kind of wanted to rein it in, I wanted some logic to it; what if people like cavemen instead of leaving the cave like the rest of us and evolving; they kind of devolved when they stayed in the cave and become something else entirely.

An offshoot of humanity and apply that science to it, which theyíre going to be blind because theyíve never used their eyeís for millions of years, be great at climbing in caves, have great hearing, kind of a sonar thing that batís have to negotiate their way through the darkness; all these things, and that was kind of how they ended up looking; that with a combination of the visual appearance of Iggy Pop.

How do you feel about the horror genre and how itís going right now, good, bad?

At the moment I think itís pretty good. Iím pleased that horror has taken a turn for the dark again.

Amen to that.

Yeah! Itís getting nasty again; itís actually getting pretty horrific again. Part of what The Descent was all about was a response to horror films for kids, PG-13 horror films. Whatís that all about?

Itís pointless. Itís nice to see movies like Devilís Rejects, The Descent or The Hills Have Eyeís kind of take the reins again.

Yeah! Too right! You know, thatís what I wanted to achieve and we got it.

You absolutely have. Now, I was reading that you like to go into the theatres with the audience [for your movies], how often do you do that?

Oh, itís not like some sick, twisted hobby of mine. Itís only like if Iím at a screening because quite often the director shows up to introduce the film and then just leaves at festivals or whatever. I like to sit with the audience and watch. Different countries, different audiences react differently and itís constantly [educating] me because I donít like watching my own films that much, I very rarely watch the film, I just watch the audience because Iím trying to learn from them. Whatís working, what isnít working, what are they jumping at. Itís a way of improving what I do.

With this film are you shocked at the critical success, which usually doesnít happen with this genre?

I know. Iím amazed, overwhelmed by the critical success. Iím very pleased, obviously. But yeah, takes me by surprise. Dog Soldiers did pretty well with the critics but this has got amazing critical response. I donít know whether itís timing or what, but I am incredibly pleased with itÖ especially in the UK where horror films, commercial films are really kind of frowned upon even with our heritage of Hammer and all that kind of stuff, nowadays your making horror films in the UK everyone kind of turns their nose up at youÖ thatís not real filmmaking, you should be doing Jane Austin or some rubbish like that, you know, Iíd like to stick two fingers up at them. But the fact that the critics [got] the film, thatís great.

And also, obviously the commercial success, itís doing very well in other countriesÖ


Are you nervous about how itís going to do in the US or are you feeling pretty confident?

Iím terrified. I donít knowÖ Iím scared of being confident; Iím scared of being optimistic because that kind of hexes it in some way. Secretly, God yeah, Iíd love it if it was a huge hit but weíll just wait and see.

Well, Lionsgate seems to be promoting it really well.

Oh, yeah brilliantly.

The ending; thereís an alternate ending coming out to the US. Whoís decision was that and how do you feel about it, are you excited about it?

Iím excited about the possibility of getting a second chance in a way. The original ending we stuck withÖ we tried out the alternate ending in the edits way back when and tried to stick with the original ending and stick with what our vision was and what was scripted. And we went with that, and that was fine but the response we got in the UK was pretty much fifty-fifty, some people loved it, some people hated it and this release now gives us the opportunity to try again. To just see how it plays. Iím not going to goÖ get artistically upset because itís got this ending here, because the real ending is also out there. I get both.

Hopefully weíll get to see it on DVD possibly.

I pretty much guarantee it.

We were talking about the UK version of the DVD; can you talk a little about the extras on that version available right now?

On the UK version right now thereís storyboards, thereís trailers, outtakes, bloopers, deleted scenes, thereís two commentariesÖ thereís a whole bunch of stuff.

There was a documentary that you mentioned.

Yeah, itís a forty minute documentary which is really good.

Hopefully weíll get a nice two-disc addition out in the states.

Yeah, I hope you do.

There is a dedication in the film to Meg. Can you tell us about that?

Meg was my dog. And sadly she died right in the middle of the shoot for The Descent. We were two weeks into the shoot, we had a break on Christmas.

Iím sorry.

Yeah, she died that Christmas break. She was only a year old and she was struck down by epilepsy, quite rare in dogs but it was enough to kill her unfortunately. And then I had to go back to work and finish the filmÖ and she, you know she was very, very special to me; my first dog. I asked the producers if I could dedicate the film to her and they let me.

I liked it; I thought it was a nice dedication.

You know, we have to show that us horror film directors arenít completely cold hearted, thereís something ticking beneath that skin.

Well in general I find horror filmmakers to be some of the nicest people around.

They are, arenít they? Not talking about me but all the ones that Iíve met, the ones Iíve been introduced to, they are. I think itís something about our dark sides are promoting our films but weíre really big soft cuddly teddy bears, really.

Well, maybe itís the fact that youíre able to get it out, so all the bad, evil stuff is out there already soÖ

Yeah, comedy film directors are a complete nightmare.


So repressed; they canít get rid of theyíre angst, or theyíre hateÖ whatever.

So I read that you are going to do an action film, is that true?

Ah, yes I am, itís called Doomsday and itís post-apocalyptic action, sci-fi action adventure. Very much in the style of Escape From New York and Mad Max.


Itíll be a lot of fun, yeah; dark and pretty brutal as well.

Excellent, you do brutal very well.

I like brutal.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to



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