The Descent
Movie poster for The Descent

‘The Descent’: Did it Really Need to Have Monsters?

“The Descent” is a fairly well respected horror film. However, some feel it didn’t really need monsters. Let’s examine this decision.

Directed by Neil Marshall, “The Descent” is pretty far from the worst horror film. In many ways, it does exactly what you’d want a horror film to do. It’s about cave explorers facing their fears, with a suggestion of something sinister lurking in the darkness. However, oddly enough, this is exactly where some people might have a problem with the film. Understandably, they think the film simply doesn’t need some cave-dwelling menace, and that “The Descent” of the title could have just been a descent into madness.

The story hints at this possibility, as Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is shown to be disturbed by the deaths of her husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll). The cave exploring trip is supposed to be therapeutic. However, Juno (Natalie Mendoza) makes the grave error of bringing the five other ladies into a completely uncharted underground network! For some people, Sarah’s loss, the tension between Juno and the others, and the dangers of the cave might have been enough. So why monsters (or “crawlers,” as they’re called in “The Descent’s” end credits).

Why Monsters?

There are a few obvious reasons why the crawlers exist in “The Descent.” For starters, it is a horror movie, and countless horror films are defined by the presence of an external menace. In this story, these humanoids serve an additional danger of distracting the women from climbing safely. They add an obvious element of tension to a struggle for survival, as well as a common for for the ladies. It also emphasizes the sense of adventure, as they’re discovering not only a threat but a new subspecies of human. There is also more room for accidental deaths when something (or someone) is stalking you.

Why Monsters Arguably Weren’t Needed

Let’s also explore why some didn’t care for the monsters. To begin with, there is plenty of fear in a survival struggle, especially as it puts people at odds. The further these characters descend into the cave, the further they get away from each other. For someone like Sarah, who starts out being distant, there’s a sense that survival will be jeopardized by a lack of genuine togetherness. Just as troubling, of course, is that people can start off really close yet have their relationship severed by such an ordeal. While “The Descent” is largely about physical death, it is also about frayed relationships. The crawlers could be seen as distracting from this plot point, even if they’re memorable monsters.

The Descent Into Madness as the Monsters Themselves

There is a possible (albeit weird) compromise one could make, and it’s at the level of a groan-inducing fan theory. Here it is: Couldn’t the crawlers simply be imagined? It’s a flimsy premise, no doubt about it. However, by the time the film ends, there’s a sense that at least some characters may be going crazy (to use the pedestrian term for it). Similarly, some have suggested the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” is all a precognitive nightmare. In fact, given the slipping sanity of Sarah, it’s debatable to what extent she might have imagined the events. Could she have been the main killer in the caves, simply imagining the crawlers?

Stories like this are always up to interpretation. In any case, “The Descent” remains a worthwhile horror film, both because of and despite the creepy-crawling humanoids. Who knows? Maybe a weird, hidden subspecies of subterranean human is vaguely plausible! While no one wants to find out the way these ladies do, it would be one hell of a find. Either that or one may go insane in a cave, imagine these things and truly have their own descent into madness. Life is all about possibilities!

What are your thoughts on “The Descent”? Let us know in the comments!

About Wade Wainio

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