The Descent is a 2005 British horror film written and directed by Neil Marshell The film follows six women who, having entered an unmapped cave system, become trapped, and are hunted by subterranean flesh-eating humanoids.
Filming took place in the United Kingdom; exterior scenes were filmed at Ashridge Park, in Buckinghamshire, and interior scenes were filmed in sets built at Pinewood Studios near London. Filmmakers considered it too dangerous and time-consuming to shoot in an actual cave, and the cave featured in the film was built at the studio. The Descent opened commercially 8 July 2005 in the United Kingdom. It premiered in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and opened commercially on 4 August 2006 in the United States.
Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Beth (Alex Reid) are whitewater rafting in Scotland. Sarah's husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) wave and cheer from the bank. On the drive back to their hotel, Paul is distracted, causing a collision. Paul and Jessica are killed, but Sarah survives.
One year later, Juno, Sarah, Beth, Sam (MyAnna Buring) and Rebecca (Saskia Mulder) are reunited at a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, USA. Holly (Nora-Jane Noone), Juno's new friend, is introduced. As they reminisce over an old photo of Juno, Sarah, and Beth, Sarah says "Love each day", explaining that it was a saying of her late husband's.
The next morning the group goes caving. When the group breaks for lunch in a huge gallery, Juno tearfully apologises to Sarah for not being there for her after the accident, but Sarah is distant. As the group moves through the next passage it collapses behind them, with Sarah barely making it through. After a heated discussion, Juno admits that she has led them into an unknown cave system, instead of the fully explored cave system they planned for. The only people who were told about their expedition think they are at the other cave system, making rescue impossible. They are trapped with no way out. Privately, Juno tells Sarah that she led them into the unknown cave hoping to restore their relationship, but Sarah rebuffs her. The group discovers a cave painting and climbing equipment from a previous visitor, suggesting a second exit exists. Juno keeps the latter secret, allowing for the group to remain hopeful.
Holly falls down a hole and breaks her leg. Sam sets Holly's fracture with a splint and they carry her. As the others help Holly, Sarah wanders off and observes a pale, humanoid creature drinking at a pool. It scampers off into the darkness when Sarah gasps. The others think Sarah imagined it, but Sarah insists that she saw someone. Soon after they are attacked by one of the creatures, referred to as "crawlers". The group scatter, and the crawler rips Holly's throat. Sarah trips and falls and passes out. Seeing Holly is still alive, Juno tries to defend her from the crawlers, but in the confusion, she whirls around, only to stab Beth through the neck with her pickaxe. Beth grabs Juno's pendant as she drops to the ground, but Juno stumbles away in shock as Beth reaches out to her. Juno eventually locates Sam and Rebecca and rescues them from a crawler. Juno tells them she may have found a way out, but will not leave without Sarah. The others reluctantly agree to help her search. Meanwhile, Sarah awakens and encounters the mortally wounded Beth, who tells Sarah that Juno wounded her and left her. Sarah does not believe her until Beth gives her Juno's pendant, which is inscribed with the words "love each day." Beth, in extreme pain, asks Sarah to euthanise her, and Sarah reluctantly complies. Sarah soon encounters and kills a young crawler, a female crawler, and a male crawler in quick succession. Elsewhere, Juno, Sam and Rebecca are pursued by a large group of crawlers. Crawlers kill Sam and Rebecca, and Juno leaps into a chasm to escape.
Juno climbs out of the chasm and is helped onto a ledge by Sarah, who asks her if she saw Beth die. Juno nods. The two cautiously explore the caves until they encounter a group of crawlers and defeat them. Sarah then faces Juno, and reveals that she has Juno's pendant, revealing that she knows that she wounded Beth. Sarah cripples Juno with a pickaxe. Juno pulls the pickaxe from her leg and turns to face a large group of crawlers while Sarah leaves her behind, with Juno's fighting screams fading as Sarah goes further. Sarah falls down a hole and is knocked unconscious. She apparently awakens (but this is a short dream sequence), scrambles up a huge pile of bones towards daylight, squeezes through a narrow opening onto the surface, runs to her vehicle and speeds off. She pulls over to vomit and sees Juno sitting next to her, her face streaked with blood. Sarah screams and awakens (for real) to find herself still in the cavern. She sees her smiling daughter close by and a birthday cake between them. The field of view widens to reveal that Sarah is hallucinating and she is actually staring at a torch. The calls of the crawlers grow louder, but Sarah is oblivious.
- Shauna Macdonald as Sarah
- Natalie Mendoza as Juno
- Alex Reid as Beth
- MyAnna Buring as Sam
- Saskia Mulder as Rebecca
- Nora Jane Noone as Holly
- Molly Kayll as Jessica
- Oliver Milburn as Paul
- When Neil Marshall's 2002 film Dog Soldiers was a moderate success, the director received numerous requests to direct other horror films. The director was initially wary of being typecast as a horror film director, though he eventually agreed to make The Descent, emphasising, "They are very different films." Marshall decided to cast only women in the main roles, going against the original plan for a gender diverse cast.
Filmmakers originally planned for the cast to be both male and female, but Neil Marshall's business partner realised that horror films almost never have all-female casts. Defying convention, Marshall cast all women into the role, and to avoid making them clichéd, he solicited basic advice from his female friends. He explained the difference, "The women discuss how they feel about the situation, which the soldiers in Dog Soldiers would never have done." He also gave the characters different accents to enable the audience to tell the difference between the women and to establish a more "cosmopolitan feel" than the British marketing of Dog Soldiers.
The cast included Shauna Macdonald as Sarah, Natalie Mendoza as Juno, Alex Reid as Beth, Saskia Mulder as Rebecca, MyAnna Buring as Sam, Nora-Jane Noone as Holly, Oliver Milburn as Paul, and Molly Kayll as Jessica. Craig Conway portrayed one of the film's crawlers, Scar.
While The Descent was set in North America, the film was shot entirely in the United Kingdom. Exterior scenes were filmed in Scotland, and interior scenes were filmed in sets built at Pinewood Studios near London. The cave was built at Pinewood because filmmakers considered it too dangerous and time-consuming to shoot in an actual cave. Set pieces were reused with care, and filmmakers sought to limit lighting to the sources that the characters bring with them into the cave, such as the helmet lights.
Marshall cited the films The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Thing, and Deliverance as influences in establishing tension in The Descent. The director elaborated, "We really wanted to ramp up the tension slowly, unlike all the American horror films you see now. They take it up to 11 in the first few minutes and then simply can't keep it up. We wanted to show all these terrible things in the cave: dark, drowning, claustrophobia. Then, when it couldn't get any worse, make it worse."
Simon Bowles designed the maze of caves for The Descent. Reviews credited Bowles: "cave sets by production designer Simon Bowles look just like the real thing" and "Bowles’ beautifully designed cave sets conjure a world of subterranean darkness." There were 21 cave Sets, built by Rod Vass and his company Armordillo Ltd. using a unique system of polyurethane sprayed rock that was developed for this production.
Production of The Descent was in competition with an American film of a similar premise, The Cave. The Descent was originally scheduled to be released in the United Kingdom by November 2005 or February 2006, but The Cave began filming six months before its competitor. The Filmmakers of The Descent decided to release the film before The Cave, so they fast-tracked production to be completed by the end of February 2005.
The Descent was released in North America with approximately a minute cut from the end. In the American cut, Sarah escapes from the cave and sees Juno, but the film does not cut back to the cave.
In the 4 August 2006 issue of Entertainment Weekly, it was stated that the ending was trimmed because American viewers did not like its "uber-hopeless finale". Lionsgate marketing chief Tim Palen said, "It's a visceral ride, and by the time you get to the ending you're drained. [Director Neil] Marshall had a number of endings in mind when he shot the film, so he was open [to making a switch]." Marshall compared the change to the ending of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, saying, "Just because she gets away, does that make it a happy ending?"
The North American Unrated DVD includes the original ending. Recently, the film has been airing on Canada's The Movie Network, which has the original ending. In contrast, the American Syfy Channel as recently as August 27, 2010 broadcast the recut version of Sarah escaping, with Juno's spectre appearing beside her in the SUV.
As exhibited on Syfy (Latin America), The Descent retains the original ending, with Sarah awakening back in the cave facing her dead daughter surrounded by the crawlers.