Chances are, if you have a multiregion DVD player, you’ve already devoured Neil Marshall’s THE DESCENT (released theatrically in the UK last summer and on disc last November). If not, you’ll be able to see it on the big screen when Lionsgate releases the DOG SOLDIERS director’s subterranean exercise in terror this August in the U.S.—but you’ll witness an alternate cut of the film. Rumors have been flying around the web that Lionsgate has trimmed THE DESCENT’s final haunting minutes for Stateside audiences—and they’re not wrong. Early test screenings, and a recent screening at Sundance, have proven that the new cut with a different conclusion has been favorably received—but why tamper with the film in the first place?
For the first time, Lionsgate president of production Peter Block talks exclusively to Fango about the decision-making process behind the new ending, which had the wholehearted blessing and involvement of Marshall himself. “When Neil wrote the script for THE DESCENT, even he wasn’t sure where he wanted to end the movie, because there are two very emotional beats [that close the film],” says Block. “He [originally] ended it in a way that gives it an intellectual and downbeat approach, but he always wondered how it would play with an ending that had a different impact.”
Borrowing some inspiration from Fox’s handling of 28 DAYS LATER—on which a post-end-credits alternate finale surfaced in theaters weeks after the film’s initial release—Lionsgate offered Marshall the opportunity to tinker with THE DESCENT’s conclusion while the studio mulled over a release time frame. “Neil thought it would be cool to see how the other way would play; rarely does a director get this chance,” Block says. “If you add on a scene, it feels like you’re giving a film something extra; if you cut a little bit earlier, it’s not necessarily taking away from the experience, it’s just changing it slightly.”
This experimentation led to a palpable contrast in overall audience reaction. “Neil found that although people loved THE DESCENT, they spent a long time talking about the end of the movie and not the movie itself, and without the last shot, there’s far more discussion of the film as a whole rather than the ambiguity one is left with from the last moment.”
U.S. horror fans sans the Region 2 DVD won’t be completely left in the dark. Lionsgate aims, of course, to release THE DESCENT’s original ending on American disc when that time arrives. “The one thing I can guarantee you is that losing the last shot does not change at all how the film plays,” Block says. “It’s such a well-made film, and one that needs to be experienced in the dark of a theater. We’d never do anything Neil didn’t want us to do—and this is something he did want to do, and we’re happy to accommodate him.”