If you think of horror movies that combine a dark, foreboding ambiance, an overarching feeling of doom, blood, guts, and gore, and enough jump scares to warrant sleeping with your light on, The Descent is one film that many horror aficionados would fondly remember.
The 2006 survival horror thriller from director Neil Marshall ticks all the right boxes, has an ending ambiguous enough to send fans into a tizzy, and achieved both critical acclaim and commercial success.
Apart from being a brave deep dive into the human psyche, however, The Descent has more to it than meets the eye. On the surface, the blood and guts and the sickly sight of The Descent creatures, the “crawlers”, make it a visual treat for body horror enthusiasts. Delve deeper, and there is more to explore in terms of layers of meaning, and possibly a connection with H.G. Wells, one of the most accomplished sci-fi writers of all time.
Here is The Descent explained, and we bring more light to the H.G. Wells angle.
Beyond the Visuals
A group of adventurous friends, led by two characters that have myriad tensions and secrets between them, go diving into a new, unexplored cave system to find more than they had bargained for. While this premise is already horror gold, let us dive a little deeper.
Viewers quickly understand that Juno, the character who organized the cave exploration, was involved in an affair with the husband of the protagonist, Sarah. Moreover, Juno seems to have reacted to her betrayal with some gratuitous overcompensation, as she brings all her friends into danger with the idea of proving something intangible. It is ultimately her hubris that results in all the perils that befall the group after they get trapped into the unexplored cave system with minimal equipment and no backup as a result of a tunnel collapse.
Another motif that will have fans gasping for air is the claustrophobia of it all, captured ingeniously with the tight camera work, dark color tone, and inspiring performances from the whole cast. It is very late into the film that the first crawler is actually visible as the director draws the moment out as much as possible to extract maximum impact.
The Descent and Its Ending
The title is also significant as it has a double meaning – Sarah’s descent into madness. After losing her family, being betrayed by her close friend, and becoming trapped in the caves, Sarah finally reaches her mental breaking point when she sees her friends being killed in gruesome fashion one after the other by the crawlers. As the finality and inevitability of the situation engulfs her, she finally loses it and becomes a different kind of monster.
The dual endings add further twist. In one ending, Sarah manages to escape the cave but it is clear that the escape means nothing for her state of mind. In another, she only imagines the escape and finally gives up, calmly waiting for the inevitable.
Did H.G. Wells Design The Descent Creatures?
What about an angle that very few horror fans would have thought of while watching The Descent and its creatures. Cast your mind back to the era of H.G. Wells and you would definitely remember The Time Machine, the dystopian sci-fi masterpiece that Wells is known for. In Wells’ world, a scientist creates a time machine and moves forward in time to discover a world where humans have been divided into two distinct species.
The Eloi are unintelligent, weak, and ineffective, live in large groups, have simplistic speech and expressions, and are deathly afraid of the dark. Why, you ask? Any why not just stick with cows, chickens, and pigs?
Under the ground live the other half of the human species, aptly named Morlocks. They are deathly pale, and basically rear and keep the Eloi species to use as food! If that does not ring any bells yet, turn to one of the illustrations or Wells’ descriptions of the Morlocks in the book and you will see that they match the crawlers in The Descent almost without any distinguishing.
There is no telling if Wells’ take on a chilling possible future and his conception of the Morlocks had anything to do with director Marshall’s design of The Descent creatures for his horror opus. However, this seems more than just a coincidence that can surely tantalize fans of modern horror who also love going back to exemplary sci-fi writing.
While The Descent is forever etched in the minds of horror fans, its interesting H.G. Wells connection and multiple layers of meaning make it even more of an involved experience for horror fans.
If this fascinates you, look into The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and try to find an illustrated edition to see how much the Morlocks are a model for The Descent creatures, not only in terms of pure appearance, but also in terms of characteristic properties, behavior, food habits, and more.
Last Updated on July 25, 2021.