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The Most Terrifying Part Of The Descent Isn't What You Think

Horror movies are generally known either for gory depictions of physical brutality (enacted by man or by beast), soul-crushingly moody explorations of the human psyche's darkest corners, or isolationist frights pitting humanity against an unforgiving natural world. Most fans of the genre would likely agree that the greatest horror movies (see: AlienThe Exorcist, The Witch, etc.) tend to combine at least two of those extremes to deliver trauma-inducing stories that work their way into the heads and hearts of viewers for all eternity.

Occasionally, however, a film seeks to utilize all three of those disparate elements, often arriving overstuffed, unfocused, and ineffective on all fronts. Neil Marshall's masterful 2005 monster flick The Descent is not one of them. In fact, it's one of the scariest movies of all time — and the rare film that utilizes all three elements to such staggeringly horrific effect that it continues to wreak havoc on audiences' nerves more than 15 years after it was released.

Essentially a horror film in two acts, The Descent is set largely in an uncharted cave system and follows a tight-knit group of thrill-seeking women who set off on an underground adventure not long after one of them (Shauna MacDonald's deeply unstable Sarah) suffers an unfathomable loss. Once below, the would-be bonding adventure turns into a subterranean nightmare as it becomes clear they're out of their depth in the perilous caves, and inter-group tensions start boiling over. The plot twists in a truly shocking fashion when one of the greatest creature reveals in horror movie history confirms the women are not alone in the caves.

Once those creatures are in play, The Descent becomes a pulse-pounding survival thriller with gore-tastic carnage and hair-raising jump-scares aplenty. Turns out, however, fans continue to find more scares in The Descent's suffocating opening act.

Claustrophia is the real killer for most fans of The Descent

If you don't believe it, The Descent's claustrophobic delights are discussed in detail by hardcore fans on the film's lively Dreadit thread. And yes, it's clear that many found the intensely cramped caving moments far more terrifying than any blood-thirsty beast. User PwninOBrien was among the first to offer such praise, claiming, "The monsters were cool, but the most frightening part for me was definitely the sense of claustrophobia in the tunnel system." Poster jmanof8 (who kicked off the thread) quickly agreed, writing, "Yeah, just the claustrophobia was terrifying... i was literally short of breath almost the whole movie, feeling like i was about to suffocate." Dreaditor LaMeraMera responded, "YES! I had sweaty palms, heavy breathing, and felt nauseated watching them in the tunnels. I loved it." 

Posters continued to praise The Descent's claustrophobic elements, and it seems some fans actually felt the film was scary enough without the creature feature elements. General-Vis is among them, posting, "I thought it was great when they were lost and trapped in the caves and trying to find a way out. Once the creatures turned up I didn't find it as engaging." User Fallenangel152 is among the many fans who share that opinion, chiming in with, "I agree. I love the film, but the first half is better than the second for me."

Whatever side of the debate they fall on, it seems most posters are 100% in agreement that The Descent is a modern horror masterpiece worthy of obsessive discussion — even if nobody's talking about the film's beyond twisted psychological horror theory.