American horror flicks have been in a real rut of late. From the wave of watered down Japanese horror, to the Saws and Hostels that confuse stomach-churning with thought-provoking—hell, even the pairing of genre titans in Freddy vs Jason was a fairly bland affair. Judging by Neil Marshall’s The Descent, it takes a Brit to remind us how it’s supposed to be done. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and her female friends are established as a rugged, outdoorsy bunch in the opening scene of whitewater rafting. But after tragedy strikes Sarah’s family, her buddies decide the best therapy is…spelunking? Meeting up with their American friend Juno (Natalie Mendoza), who incidentally may or may not have been sleeping with Sarah’s husband, they venture into an unexplored Appalachian cave system where they find themselves very unwelcome guests. Without giving away too much about just what these plucky spelunkers encounter, picture a blind, even paler Gollum with anger management issues and a taste for human flesh. But thankfully we live in a post-Buffy world, which means that beautiful girls in danger don’t simply whimper and run—they roll up their sleeves and commence to kicking ass, transforming from J. Crew-modelesque milquetoasts into badass battle babes along the way. Cinematographer Sam McCurdy visually strands the viewer right alongside the protagonists in impossibly narrow, barely lit passages. Often two thirds of the screen is pitch black, a lone flashlight beam providing the only illumination and the chiaroscuro effect heightening the sense of claustrophobia. Marshall’s script has a recurring theme of rebirth, and viewers obsessed with reading every film as a subversive political metaphor should have a field day with the charismatic American who lies to her UK allies, eventually embroiling them in a bloody, complicated war. Sure the film has cheesy dialogue (After a cave-in blocks their escape route: “This is not good, guys.”), and plot holes a mile wide (why wouldn’t a blind predator rely on a heightened sense of smell?), but it also contains tight pacing, numerous expertly timed “boo!” scares, and a generous helping of unapologetic gore that’s been missing from the glut of PG-13 “horror” movies currently plaguing American screens. The Descent brings the pain in more ways than one, and reminds us yanks we need to step up our guignol game.