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Film / The Descent

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The Descent is a 2005 British horror film written and directed by Neil Marshall, director of Dog Soldiers and Doomsday.

The film follows a group of six women who embark on a caving expedition and become trapped underground after a cave-in. Things go from bad to worse when they discover that the cave is home to predatory, pale humanoid creatures (known as "Crawlers"). As the Crawlers hunt them down, the women embark on a struggle to survive and escape the cave - but that's not their only problem, as the friends' trust in each other slowly begins to deteriorate in the tense, claustrophobic environment. A sequel, The Descent Part 2, was released in December 2009.

Has nothing to do with the video game series Descent. Nor the novel The Descent by Jeff Long, although there are certainly similarities.


Was released almost simultaneously with two nigh-identical films; The Cave and The Cavern.

The original film provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Hospital Awakening: Subverted, when Sarah seems to wake up in an Abandoned Hospital after the car accident. After about twenty seconds, it turns out to be a hallucination — she's in a normal hospital.
  • Accidental Murder: Juno mortally wounds Beth after mistaking her for a Crawler.
  • Action Girl: Pretty much the entire group and especially Juno, with the possible exception of Holly and Beth, who are killed before they have the chance to kick some ass.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Beth.
  • Ankle Drag: Happens to Becca as she's taken away by a Crawler.
  • Arc Words: "Love each day."
  • Artistic License – Medicine:
    • As soon as Sarah wakes up in the hospital the first thing she does is Pull the I.V. out of her hand.
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    • When Holly gets her throat ripped out, Juno shines a light in her eyes giving us an extreme closeup as Holly's pupil quickly constricts. In Real Life, pupils dilate shortly after death as all the muscles in the body lose their natural tone.
    • Sam decides to reinsert Holly's broken shin. She might be a medical student, but she's clearly not studying emergency medicine because any 1st year paramedic knows that you attempt to set the bone once before splinting in place & you never reinsert the bone protruding from an open fracture. Especially not in a muddy puddle in the middle of a cave with who knows what previously unknown deadly lifeforms crawling around.
  • Ax-Crazy: Sarah, eventually.
  • Bat Scare: The ladies startle a flock of bats into flight as they're first entering the cave.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Beth begs Sarah to kill her, rather than leave her to die slowly from her neck wound, or end up as food for the Crawlers.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sarah.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Becca is very caring and protective towards her sweet little sister Sam, and to a lesser extent, the rest of the less-experienced caving group. Also, it's fairly subtle, but Beth displays Big Sister Instincts towards anyone in the group who needs it - she's constantly looking after the emotionally fragile (due to the death of her husband and child) Sarah, she gives her jacket to Holly after she breaks her leg and helps her stand and walk (along with Sam) and she goes back to help Juno in the crawler fight. Sadly, that last decision does not end well for her.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: The Crawlers' bat-like clicking sounds, made even when they're alone, imply that they use echolocation to navigate in the pitch-black caves.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Juno gets one, wounded and outnumbered, but we are given her final screams to guess her fate. In the UK ending, Sarah awakens still trapped in the caves, making her chances of survival seem unlikely.
  • Break the Cutie: Losing her family in a car accident does this to Sarah. Then the events in the cave break her some more.
  • Cannibal Larder: Sarah falls into a blood-filled pit with gnawed human and animal bones scattered around it.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Sarah in the cabin.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: The group picture the group takes of themselves the morning of the caving trip shows up at the end with the credits rolling over it.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Juno's necklace. Also, Sam's watch.
    • Also the climbing picks. In Real Life, those are only used to climb frozen waterfalls, but they're necessary to the movie as weapons.
    • Averted, however, with the massive drill that Becca has attached to her belt (most prominently seen during the scene where she crosses the crevasse). This is pointed out in the director and cast commentary.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A rather odd aversion. Extreme-sports expert Becca is able, with a great amount of difficulty, to climb across the roof of a cavern using a long rope and several carabiners. This is set-up for later when the much less experienced Sam has to do it with about three feet of rope, one carabiner, and no gloves to protect her hands. Realistically, she can't, and then a crawler comes.
    • Also, the impending graduation of Sam from medical school while the women are at the cabins came in handy in two major situations.
  • Chromosome Casting: Sarah's husband is the only named male character who appears onscreen, and gets maybe one line of dialogue before being abruptly killed in the first five minutes.
  • Claustrophobia: Not present in any of the main characters, but the scene where the group is squeezing through an extremely tight tunnel - not to mention the fact that Sarah gets stuck in it - can invoke this in viewers.
  • Covers Always Lie: One version of the cover is a fan servicey pose of all girls forming a skull while wearing tight revealing outfits, (an ode to Salvador Dalí's Skull Women.) Most of the characters were wandering in the dark covered in blood and wearing full protective gear, anyone expecting hawtness to occur would be mildly disappointed.
    • One of the promotional images shows all the characters sans helmets and wearing sleeveless tops. In actuality, not everyone loses their helmets (Sam keeps hers on all the time), and Sarah and Beth are the only characters to strip down to their vest tops.
  • Creepy Cave: The primary setting of the film is a massive cave that just gets creepier the farther they descend into it. And it's not half as bad as the things living in it . . .
  • Creepy Child: Sarah's constant hallucinations of Jessica arguably qualify.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Poor Becca arguably recieves the slowest, most painful death in the film - a Crawler rips open her stomach and starts devouring her innards while she is still alive. Ouch.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: The UK Ending. Sarah merely hallucinated escaping the cave; there is no exit. All along the characters have only been descending further down, without any way out. Waking up right where she lost consciousness, Sarah goes on to imagine her dead daughter sitting in front of her with a birthday cake, as the crawlers are homing in on Sarah to eat her alive.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Sarah becomes depressed and withdrawn after losing her husband and daughter in a car accident. The fact that she's already emotionally fragile may have contributed to her later axe-craziness.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Sort of. More like Danger Takes A Passenger Seat. (Although this moment turns out to be one of Sarah's hallucinations.)
  • Death by Pragmatism: Justified with Juno. She was murdered after she accidentally fatally wounded Beth and then ran away. Sarah found out, but she didn't know it was an accident...
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Pulled off successfully. The crawlers don't arrive until halfway through the film, but most critics appreciated that because the time was spent character building and establishing the decaying trust within the group and sense of claustrophobia. Some even complained that the crawlers showed up at all to interrupt the caving drama.
  • Don't Sneak Up On Me Like That: How Juno kills Beth with an ice pick through the back of the neck, quite gruesome.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The girls descent down the cave, but the title also refers to their individual descents into savagery to survive.
  • Downer Beginning: The first scene of the film ends with Paul and Jessica, Sarah's husband and daughter, dying by getting poles shoved through their heads in a freak car accident, and Sarah almost loses her mind right then and there as she collapses in Beth's arms at the hospital, suicidal.
  • Downer Ending:
    • The original UK ending: Everyone dies. Sarah cripples Juno and leaves her for the crawlers, then imagines escaping. She wakes up, hallucinates that her daughter is there, and gives up to stay with the hallucination.
    • The US ending: After injuring Juno, Sarah really does escape, and hallucinates Juno's creepy looking ghost is there with her. She's an Ax-Crazy murderer, her family and friends are all dead, and there are still strong implications that she's just imagining this and is still in the cave. Considering they changed the ending because it was too bleak, there isn't that much of a difference.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Happens after Juno accidentally pickaxes Beth through the throat - as she collapses, Beth rips Juno's necklace from her.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Sam gets her throat slashed by a Crawler. Just before she dies, however, she gets a sudden burst of adrenaline and stabs the Crawler, causing it to plummet into the crevasse below. As it turns out, there was water below and the Crawler doesn't actually die at that point (Juno finishes the job), but it still counts as a seriously badass moment for Sam.
  • Dwindling Party
  • Eye Scream: Between this and 28 Days Later, killing an enemy by pushing its eyes in with your thumbs has apparently become the British horror symbol for "I've turned psychopathic and metaphorically become one of the monsters."
    • ...which would, in this instance, mean that Sarah is 'losing sight' of who she is.
    • Earlier, Sarah takes out the female Crawler by stabbing her in the eye with an animal horn.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: One of Sarah's nightmares has her daughter being seen from behind, who suddenly turns around to reveal the face of a Crawler.
  • Fan Disservice: Sarah spends a good deal of the last part of the film in her tight vest top after shedding her other layers, and covered in sweat. She also happens to be covered in blood from head to foot. (Others may see this as Fanservice, if you're into that kind of thing...)
  • Final Girl: Until the sequel changed the canon, Sarah made herself into the Final Girl. And then died, as a consequence of not having Juno around to help her, snap her out of her crazy hallucinating reverie, or rage-fuel her badassery and survival instincts. Oops.
  • Fingore: It's hard to make out, but, when Becca is being dragged to her death, her fingernails scrape across the ground, ripping off at least one of them in the process.
  • Foreshadowing: Before they enter the cave, Becca reels off a list of things commonly experienced by cavers, such as hallucinations and claustrophobia, among others. Most, if not all of these things happen down there.
    • It's shown that Sarah is taking some form of (prescribed) psychiatric medication in a blink-and-you-miss-it scene at the cabin... none of which she takes with her due to Juno's lie about the difficulty of the cave system, thinking that it'd be a day trip.
    • Juno and Paul's affair is heavily foreshadowed several times before it's revealed:
      • The opening has Paul helping Juno with her helmet and sharing a few tender looks with her. His distraction in the car can also be put down to his troubled thoughts on the matter.
      • Juno has a necklace that she plays with at one point and later kisses for luck before crossing the crevasse. It turns out Paul gave it to her as a gift.
      • In the cabin, Sarah quotes Paul's personal motto. This causes Juno to give her a look. Juno's aforementioned necklace has said motto engraved on it.
      • "We all lost something in that crash."
    • See also Shown Their Work / Viewers Are Geniuses below.
  • Freak Out:
    • Happens to Sarah twice: first time is when she loses her husband and daughter in a horrific car accident one year prior to the caving trip, and the second is when she completely snaps after being attacked by the Crawlers, being forced to watch said Crawlers partially devour the corpse of Holly directly in front of her, and then granting Beth's I Cannot Self-Terminate request by bashing her head in with a rock. Then there's the small fact that she mistakenly believes that Juno deliberately stabbed Beth through the throat. The result of all this, combined with her first Freak Out, is not pretty.
    • Following Sarah's claims (initially dismissed as hallucinations by the rest of the group) that she saw "a man", Becca has a smaller-scale Freak Out when the team stumbles across the Crawlers' feeding ground, declaring "Oh, fuck it!" and hysterically screaming out for help on the off-chance that someone else may be down there to help them.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • One of the first sightings of a Crawler is right after the tunnel collapse, on a ledge when Sarah is sweeping the cave with her flashlight. It's visible for barely one second.
    • The very first sighting of a Crawler can be seen very, very briefly in the scene where Juno lights up a flare for the first time and throws it into the middle of the cave. It is very difficult to spot without pausing and looking closely. According to Neil Marshall, this is actually a continuity error - the Crawler is one of the film crew. When this mistake was spotted, rather than remove it digitally, the crewmember's face was deliberately whitened to bring it out more, thus making him look like a hiding Crawler.
      • In the same scene, a Crawler can be seen to the left-hand side of the screen when Sarah is looking around for a few seconds.
  • Freud Was Right: Invoked by Neil Marshall on the DVD "Beneath the Scenes", where multiple jokes are made about how similar a piece of the cave is to a certain part of the female anatomy. To wit - "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!"
  • Genre Shift: From Primal Fear to Slasher Movie.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Three times to one character, so it isn't surprising that she borders on Empty Shell at the end of the film.
    • When Sarah finds out her family are dead.
    • When Sarah learns from Beth that Juno killed her - although the audience know it was accidental.
    • When Sarah finds the necklace and realizes that Juno and Paul were having an affair.
  • Gorn: It's not excessive, but is definitely present in a few scenes.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Happens when Paul and Jessica are killed. We see a pole emerge from the back of Paul's headrest complete with blood splatter, and Jessica's death isn't shown at all - the only indication of her death is her blood seeping out from under the car.
    • Later, when Sarah puts Beth out of her misery by smashing her head with a rock, the camera angle and the darkness prevent the viewer from getting a clear look at the event. Seeing the full result would have probably killed one of the saddest moments in the film.
    • The death of the child Crawler.
  • Groin Attack: Towards the end, Juno repeatedly knees the Crawler she's grappling with in the crotch.
  • Heroic BSoD: A deleted scene has Becca go through this after seeing her sister get killed by a crawler, desperately shrieking out that every step further down these caves is another step closer to hell.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Includes some pretty good ones, including a Crawler actor having the time of his life dancing.
  • Hope Spot: Holly sees a light source and runs to it, believing it to be an exit... only to slip down a hole and break her leg.
  • Hot Teacher: Beth, the English teacher, who also manages to use her knowledge to recognize cave paintings.
  • A House Divided: The whole group is understandably somewhat mad at Juno for lying to them and bringing them down to an unexplored cave that was much more dangerous than they were expecting, which means that it's very unlikely anyone will be along to rescue them. However, it's water under the bridge once they meet the crawlers. That is, until Sarah finds out what Juno did to Beth, and she doesn't know it was an accident, plus a recent discovery of Juno's extracurricular activities with her husband, and she's also feeling a bit Ax-Crazy... The result is not pretty.
  • Howl of Sorrow: Sarah, after she has well and truly lost it.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Beth, after being accidentally stabbed through the throat by Juno (thus paralyzing her by damaging her spinal cord), begs Sarah to kill her, lest she die slowly and painfully or be ripped apart by the Crawlers.
  • Idiot Ball: Subverted. Almost every named character makes at least one mistake leading to their own death or someone else's. Usually, it's only one mistake, and it's pretty believable given circumstances. The only named character who doesn't do this is Jessica, Sarah's daughter.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Crawlers could technically be considered cannibals, as they are, according to Neil Marshall, evolved cavemen. There are several hints of this throughout the film.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Both Paul and Jessica get this courtesy of some poorly-tied-down metal poles at the beginning of the movie. Later, Sarah has a nightmare in which a metal pole suddenly flies through the cabin window and through her head.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted in Jessica's case. The death of the child Crawler may also count.
  • Jump Scare:
    • Starting with the bats and going on from there.
      • There's an even earlier one when Sarah has her nightmare in the cabin.
  • The Killer in Me: See Through the Eyes of Madness below for details.
  • Kill the Cutie: Sam.
  • Kill 'Em All:
    • Everyone who gets a speaking part dies, two of them within the first five minutes. To be fair, there are only eight people in the whole cast. Playing humans, at least.
    • That is, until the sequel changed this. Sarah gets it together enough to stagger out of an entrance to the cave, albeit with amnesia about the last two days.
  • Left for Dead: Beth and Juno.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Subverted, as it's not intentional and done in a moment of panic. Later averted, as everyone gets back together at some point, though not all at once.
  • Mama Bear: The first female Crawler seen in the film appears shortly after Sarah kills the Crawler's child. Upon learning that her child is dead (after a surprisingly sad moment of the Crawler desperately and pitifully nudging the body), she immediately goes berserk.
  • Man Bites Man: It's a bit hard to make out due to the lighting, but, during the climactic fight sequence, Sarah bites off a Crawler's ear and doesn't spit it out until she's finished fighting.
  • Matchlight Danger Revelation: Brilliantly subverted when Juno pulls out a lighter in a dark cavern, but finds nothing. It's only when the night vision on Holly's camcorder is switched on that a Crawler is seen up close for the first time.
  • The Medic: Sam, who is a med student. Because of this, she can help treat injuries the best she can, and also examine the crawler's biology and try to recognize how they function.
  • Mercy Kill: Sarah reluctantly performs one on Beth at the latter's insistence.
  • The Mistress: Juno is deeply implied to have been having an affair with Sarah's husband. When Beth handed Sarah Juno's necklace she whispers that is was from him, as it has his personal motto engraved in it.
  • Moment of Lucidity: Sarah experiences one of these after managing to escape the caverns- only to wake up back in the cave a moment later. As it turns out, the entire escape was just a delusion. For a few seconds, she seems to comprehend reality again; then she sees her daughter sitting across from her with a birthday cake. Sarah smiles back at her... and then the camera pulls back to reveal that she's alone, smiling vacantly at her torch.
  • Mood Whiplash: The opening. It goes from Sarah, Juno and Beth white water rafting and having a great time, to less uplifting when Sarah wondering why her husband is acting oddly, to downright horrific when the car crash happens.
  • Mook Horror Show: By the end the women have become so desperate and hateful of the Crawlers that they start ripping them apart with even more viciousness than the Crawlers themselves ever showed. You almost feel sorry for the little freaks.
  • The Morlocks: The crawlers. Morlock creator H.G. Wells is one of Neil Marshall's favorite writers.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Juno spends most of the film in a tight red climbing top, unzipped to reveal a hint of cleavage, and still looks hot when covered in sweat, dirt and blood. Being played by Natalie Mendoza helps.
  • Neck Snap: Juno does this to a Crawler, cementing herself as an Action Girl.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Sarah has a lot of them, often involving her daughter, Jessica.
  • Not So Different: Sarah's brutality and extremely savage fighting towards the end is symbolic of how she's becoming more like the Crawlers.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Holly is annoyed that Juno is taking them to Borham Caverns, a cave system for tourists, as she believes it will be boring. It later turns out that Juno deliberately led them to an unknown cave system instead.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • For some of the jump scares, it's fairly easy to tell that something bad is going happen soon. We don't know what, where or exactly when, but just knowing you're stuck in a predator's territory with no idea where they are is itself a terrifying experience.
    • For the first 2/3 of the film, pretty much nothing does happen, instead relying on the atmosphere of the cave itself to create the sense of dread and claustrophobia. For this reason, many find this actually scarier than the Crawlers.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The facial expression isn't seen, but the tone of voice says it all: "Dead animals! Hundreds of them!"
    • Earlier, there's the looks on Sarah and Beth's faces when the cave tunnel starts to collapse.
    Beth: Okay, fuck the rope bag. Move! Move! MOVE!!
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Holly achieves this shortly before she falls down a pit and breaks her leg.
  • Rock Bottom: After Sarah gets stuck in a tight passage, Beth tries to calm her down, saying that the worst thing that has happened to Sarah has already happened, and generally implies that nothing bad is going to happen again. They are wrong.
  • Rule of Symbolism: When Sarah unleashes her Howl of Sorrow, the action cuts back to Juno, Becca and Sam, who hear a Crawler scream. The sounds are edited so it sounds as though Sarah's scream has suddenly changed into that of one of the Crawlers'. Later (in the original UK ending), Sarah rises from the floor of the cave in a manner very reminiscent of the way a Crawler would move.
  • Scenery Porn:
    • The shots of the river during the prologue, the shots of the Appalachian Mountains, and the first cave chamber.
    • Scenery Gorn: The Crawlers' chambers.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The first of the group to go is Holly, the crazy awesome chick.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "I'm an English teacher, not fucking Tomb Raider."
    • The music in the scene where Juno and Sarah move through the caverns by flare light bears unmistakable resemblance to Morricone's theme from The Thing (1982).
    • The scene where the team climbs the rockface into the feeding chamber is an almost shot for shot replication of the scene in Alien where Lambert and Kane climb up to meet the Space Jockey.
    • The overhead shot of Beth and Sarah driving to the cabin is a visual reference to the film version of The Shining.
    • There are many subtle references to Deliverance peppered throughout the film, such as the rafting scene, Juno's red suit, and others.
    • A possible (and less gruesome) Shout-Out to Neil Marshall's previous film, Dog Soldiers, occurs when Sam has to push Holly's splintered bone back into her leg - in Dog Soldiers, Cooper has to push Wells' intestines back into him.
    • Another, very subtle, Dog Soldiers reference, doubling as a Mythology Gag: When Sarah discovers an old helmet in the cave, a closer look reveals the name "Oswald" written on the brim. This is a reference to Eddie Oswald, the character mentioned by Wells in Dog Soldiers. Neil Marshall has mentioned that he plans to reference Eddie Oswald in all of his films.
    • The shot of Sarah rising out of the pool of blood is very reminiscent of the ending of Apocalypse Now, where Martin Sheen rises out of the water.
    • The sight of Sarah wandering around dazed and covered in blood is very reflective of Carrie (1976).
    • When she taps into her badass state, Sarah gouges out the Crawler's eyes with her bare hands reminiscent of Jim killing one of the soldiers and coming to resemble the dead in 28 Days Later.
    • The sequence of the manic and desperate Sarah running to her car through the woods is reminiscent of Sally desperately fleeing Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • Shown Their Work / Viewers Are Geniuses: Extremely subtle cues exist to foreshadow plot points.
    • The first crawlspace is clearly limestone, notoriously treacherous for cave-ins if not reinforced by more stable minerals. Given the close proximity to a riverbed, it's not unreasonable to assume it's just a thin coating... in a level 2 cave.
    • The Crawlers have the auditory Shout-Out to the Predator series. They're similar to the clicks dolphins make, and are a very early tip-off that they use sonar.
    • Also noteworthy how no one stops to exposit on how various caving techniques work, e.g. the use of a lighter to find air currents.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": Occurs when Holly breaks her leg.
  • Sole Survivor: A freak car accident claims Paul and Jessica, leaving Sarah the only survivor of her family.
  • Team Mom: While Juno leads the group, it's Becca who reassures them and makes sure they're doing everything safely.
  • Tears of Blood: Near the end of the film, when Sarah hallucinates the presence of Juno's ghost, the latter has blood seeping from her eyes.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Since Sarah was hallucinating without a doubt at several separate points, there is a popular theory that the cave monsters were all in her mind and it was her that killed all her friends. The director originally put a crawler silhouette into the first hallucination sequence (which took place outside the cave) but had it edited out because he wanted to leave it more ambiguous.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Beth walks very slowly up to within arm's reach of an ice-pick wielding Juno, and chooses never to say or do anything to announce her presence. Juno mistakes her for a crawler and puts the pick through her neck.
    • Holly. Yes, run ahead of your fellow spelunkers in an unknown cave system! And you're surprised you fell in a hole?!
    • Tropes Are Not Bad, however, and Beth was very likely either in shock or trying to avoid drawing the attention of the Crawlers, while Holly was already well-established as a reckless sort.
    • Juno, she lied and took her friends to an unknown cave system, as opposed to a cave system for tourists. With an inaccurate "flight plan" no one will know where to look for them when they all go missing, meaning rescue is effectively impossible. Even worse, this cave system is completely newly discovered and utterly unmapped, so there's absolutely no way to know what dangers are in it, where another exit is, or even if there's another exit.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Sarah, after the events in the cave cause her to snap.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Holly. Though as everybody dies, it's more like Vasquez Dies First.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Happens towards the end when Sarah unwinds the car window to vomit on the road.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Paul and Jessica.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: The Rock Bottom example above, and also Juno's comment about how the women needn't worry about getting lost because she (Juno) has "never been lost in (her) life".
  • Worst Aid: See the Artistic License – Medicine open fracture example above.


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