A group of women go spelunking into the caves of the Appalachians and end up fending for their lives as an unknown threat hunts each of them down in The Descent, an excellent metaphor for what life is like for someone who’s experienced loss. Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), a widow who lost her husband and children in a car accident, comes out of seclusion to join her friends for what seems like a routine but dangerous trip which goes from bad to horribly and frighteningly worse. Stuck underground, Sarah must will herself to face the odds and climb out of the depths that could become her grave.
The trip begins normally enough, though Sarah’s friends discuss her situation with concern. After a passage closes behind them, Juno (Natalie Mendoza) admits she’s led them all into an unknown cave system outside of the safe zone. Circumstances are grim — the group is low on supplies, and it would take days or weeks for the outside world to discover they’re missing, let alone where they are. A chance encounter reveals a cave painting that points them to possible exits, and the women search for daylight.
Claustrophobia or being buried alive isn’t their worst fear. Mysterious lifeforms hunt the women who are on borrowed time as they make a mad scramble towards safety. The physical demands, the treacherous terrain with its sudden pitfalls, and the darkness lessen their chances for survival while upping the fear quotient. Expect several pointed scares and the suffocating tension that comes with imagining what it’d feel like being deep underground in the dark. Common fears get exploited, and closeups bring it in within breathing distance. Several different endings exist, with the American release having the happiest version. Regardless of how people perceive the ending, one thing remains clear — The Descent is a thriller with primal qualities.