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The Descent is a Tale of Grief, Loss, and Hidden Strength

India has been an avid fan of all things spooky and scary ever since she can remember.


“I’m an English teacher, not @!#$ Tomb Raider.”

— The Descent, 2005

A horror movie set in a cave? Yes, please. The Descent follows Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) as she struggles to recover from the sudden deaths of her husband and daughter. Seeking a distraction from her grief, she and a group of friends decide to explore a cave system in the Appalachian Mountains. There’s just one problem: they aren’t alone down there.

Please note that I am reviewing the American version of the film, which features a different ending than the UK version.

It’s a promising premise—and luckily, The Descent doesn’t disappoint. The movie utilizes its unconventional setting to deliver a creepy and compelling tale of lies, betrayal, and infidelity—and that’s before the monsters show up. Unlike many creature features, The Descent doesn’t rely on the cave dwellers to keep things interesting. Venturing underground can be hazardous for the unprepared or inexperienced; and the film doesn’t hesitate to make use of these dangers. In addition to contending with the monsters, the group must face a cave in, a broken leg, and internal strife (to name a few). In some ways, the cave is just as terrifying as the monsters themselves!

And while additional character development would have been appreciated, the relatively small cast made it easy to get to know each woman (for once, I was able to remember all their names). I particularly enjoyed watching Sarah’s progression from timid and unsure to fierce and brave. Rather than cracking under pressure, she stands strong amidst the chaos: emerging triumphant against all odds. It’s refreshing to see a character—particularly a woman—holding their own against the monsters instead of running mindlessly or only killing them with the help of excessive firepower.

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Furthermore, the movie addresses Sarah’s grief over her family’s deaths—her daughter’s in particular—in a realistic yet compassionate manner. Although she is doing her best to move on, Sarah can’t forget her loss that easily—but nor does she allow herself to be crippled by grief. Instead, Sarah chooses to live how she wants and do what she loves, while keeping her loved ones alive in her heart. She may be wounded, but she is far from broken.

© 2022 India LaPalme

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