The Descent (2005 movie): Horror of Friendship

The Descent - six friends

The Descent is a British adventurous horror/thriller movie released in March 2005. Neil Marshall has written and directed this movie. Christian Colson has produced the film and Jon Harris is the editor. It has a runtime of 1 hour and 39 minutes. The intense and claustrophobic horror movie has received heavy praise for its plot, screenplay, suspense, and cinematography.

The film is ruthless, unforgiving, bloody, and merciless. Most of the scenes are shot in darkness, inside an artificial cave. The shots are pretty gruesome too. The adrenaline rush of the audience increases by leaps and bounds as the plot thickens. The film doesn’t reserve much time for character development. But they are not fully static either. Everyone has unique personality traits. It is one of those rare horror movies which has a female-only main cast.

Sarah, Holly, and Juno inside the cave in the movie The Descent (2005).
Still fromThe Descent

The cast includes Shauna Macdonald as Sarah Carter, Natalie Mendoza as Juno Kaplan, MyAnna Buring as Samantha Vernet, Saskia Mulder as Rebecca Vernet, Alex Reid as Elizabeth O’Brien, Nora-Jane Noone as Holly Mills, among others. (A lackluster sequel was released in 2009. For all intent and purposes, The Descent was meant to be a standalone film. Therefore, we won’t consider the sequel for this review.)

The Descent is about six female friends who go spelunking together. However, their adventure soon turns into a deadly, horrific nightmare. Bloodthirsty cave-dwelling cannibals attack them. They realize they have slim chances of escaping the death trap. The “monsters” are shown to be cavemen who have lived inside that cave system for a very long time, as a result of which they have ‘evolved’ to forage in the dark. Meanwhile, the six friends are at the end of their tether – straining the limits of their bodies, their friendships, and fundamental beliefs regarding their own selves.

Plot (The Descent)

The story is about six feisty climbers – Sarah, Juno, Beth, Sam, Rebecca, and Holly – who decide to go for a cave expedition in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Sarah has recently lost her husband and daughter in an accident. So the adventure is expected to be ‘healing’ for her. Juno leads the group inside a cave network. However, they get stuck soon after a narrow passage collapses. Juno then admits to having tricked them into this unexplored cave system instead of the one they had originally planned to explore.

Juno reveals that she planned this expedition to mend her strained friendship with Sarah, with whose deceased husband she’d had an affair. Slowly the terrors begin and they discover the presence of crawling, flesh-eating humanoid creatures. The creatures are blind but they hunt by tracking sound. Inside the cave, they also discover a den filled with animal and human carcasses.

A still from the movie The Descent (2005).
A gory still from ‘The Descent

One by one, the predators attack and kill them. The friends fight the cannibals with every means at their disposal, slaughtering countless numbers. Meanwhile, Sarah gets to know about Juno’s affair with her husband before his death. To make matters worse, Juno mortally wounds another friend (Beth) by accident in the heat of melee with the monsters. Almost everyone dies, leaving Sarah and Juno. Near the exit, Sarah confronts Juno that she knows how Juno killed Beth and had an affair with her husband, Paul. Sarah maims Juno and leaves her to die alone, while she makes her escape from the cave. She falls into a hole and becomes unconscious.

The movie has two different endings.

In the US version, Sarah escapes from the cave post regaining consciousness. She drives her car as fast as possible and she shouts after seeing a hallucination of Juno. According to the UK version, after the ‘end’ in the US version, Sarah wakes up inside the cave following a delirious dream in which she had escaped. She hallucinates her daughter sitting, holding a birthday cake. It is revealed that she is still stuck inside the cave, as the distant clamor of the cannibals closes in.


The Descent is disturbing and gory. Inside the cave, there is no sunlight. In addition, there are barrages of different sensations: of drowning, feeling trapped; and overpowering claustrophobia. Even before the cavemen start tearing at the girls, a claustrophobic feeling grips the audience as the girls start entering narrow passageways. The lights and sound effects add to this tense atmosphere.

There is also claustrophobia in the friends’ group, with uneasy sentiments loitering, especially surrounding Sarah and Juno. Sarah is the main character of the movie for whom this adventure is like a rebirth after her traumatic incident. Juno is a darker anti-heroine who wants to make amends but doesn’t know how to. Her well-meaning intentions land them in this dreadful situation in the first place. Her frantic efforts only alienate her further from Sarah and the rest of the group. Juno’s predicament and eventual fate lend this gory shocker an intensely tragic dimension. It also flips the idea of ‘hero’ and ‘villain,’ compelling the audience to root for the supporting character over the protagonist.

Sarah inside the cave - The Descent (2005)
Sarah inside the cave

Darkness comes alive in this movie soon after the women realize that there is no way out. The cannibals and the caves act as foils to the delicate friendship of the group. It is the sharp, malicious, live-wire interactions among friends that provide the core tension in this movie. The Descent is a savage and gripping film. A thrilling, dramatic, raging work with a wholesale bloody ambiance. It’s a worthy match for all horror movie buffs who like to explore something more visceral and primal beyond supernatural tales.

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