The Descent, one of Britain's best horror film outputs in the past 15 years, has long been the subject of narrative speculation. Whether it's 'Sarah was in a coma all along' or other such infamous cliches, watchers have questioned what REALLY happens to a group of friends that face up against dark-dwelling monsters deep underneath the North Carolina Mountains, with continuous theories since release in 2006. Whilst this one in particular isn't necessarily a new theory, as previous writers have explored, it's one that has stood the test of time, and is an interesting one to unpack when you really get your teeth into it.
First things first, however, let's look at how the film plays out on the surface.
The Descent is the story of six female spelunkers out for adventure when everything goes terribly wrong. We have Sarah, our traumatised protagonist who lost her family in a tragic car accident, her best friend and soft soul Beth, the hard faced frenemy Juno, butch and reckless newcomer to the group Holly, and two sisters Rebecca and Sam, the former a safety-cautious outdoors type and the latter an inexperienced but capable medical student.
The group have reunited a year after Sarah's accident to rekindle their friendship, intent on bonding through a shared love of caving, with a planned system and safety checks in place for an afternoon of exploration. It should be the perfect fun group trip together.
Only, Juno has lied and the group find themselves in a completely new system not on any maps, and their planned escape backups won't have any idea where they really are. When the sheet rock gives way and their entrance is sealed shortly after getting inside, the reality of their situation hits home - and it's a bid to escape their underground prison before it's too late. In amongst the chaos it's revealed that Juno was having an affair with Sarah's late husband Paul, and Sarah consistently has dreamlike visions of her daughter holding a birthday cake with five candles.
All that pales, however, to the discovery of flesh-eating monsters called crawlers that pick the group off one by one, blind but able to hear incredibly well and the prime hunters in their previously undisturbed underground habitat. Unsurprisingly, they add a whole new level of desperation to the women's escape - the matter of life and death becoming all the more high stakes when there's creatures that will tear you limb from limb hiding in the dark.
It begs the question, however, of what such a feat of evolution is doing hidden for so many years in this one cave system? Something this unique and unheard of surely would have been found in other instances by now, especially in an area littered with animal corpses before even entering the cave entrance. In that case, what is happening when Sarah zones out, seeing her dead family almost beckoning her forth?
Is there really something killing off the friendship group? Or has it been Sarah all along?
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