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The Ending Of The Descent Explained

"The Descent" is a 2005 horror-thriller about an adventuresome and daring group of girlfriends who get more than they bargained for after spelunking into a cave system. They are ambushed by a killer underground horde that hunts them down one at a time. 

The movie initially opens with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Juno (Natalie Mendoza), and Beth (Alex Reid) traversing an exhilaration whitewater rafting excursion. Unfortunately, at the end of the trip, Sarah's family is in a car accident and her husband and daughter are killed on impact. One year later her friends decide on a spelunking trip with additional companions Sam (MyAnna Buring), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) hoping this expedition will help Sarah bond and emotionally heal with her friends.  

However, as the six women struggle to navigate the treacherous caves, they become trapped during a tunnel collapse. Adding to their problems: Juno, who was in charge of planning the trip, did not bring any guidebooks and changed which caves to explore at the last minute — so no one knows where they are and no help is coming. Then, while trying to negotiate the simultaneously claustrophobic and gaping cavern terrain, the group shockingly find themselves trying to outwit unknown deadly creatures who have made this territory their home. These humanoid carnivorous monsters (Crawlers) are blind and bat-like in appearance and hunt the women via sound. In an interview with Vulture director Neil Marshall described them as " ... cavemen who stayed in the cave."

The film has two endings, and we will delve into the meaning behind each version.

In the U.S. ending, Sarah ultimately escapes the cavern

At one point in the chaos, Juno accidentally stabs her friend Beth in the neck and runs off. When she is later discovered by Sarah, Beth gives her the necklace she grabbed from Juno confirming that she killed Beth and also had an affair with Sarah's husband. Much like her affair, instead of owning up to her actions and trying to heal wounds, Juno flees from her mistakes and abandons Beth the same way she abandoned Sarah after the accident.

As the others in the group each meet a gruesome end, Juno and Sarah are eventually the only two left and work together to slaughter the creatures. Sarah viciously dispatches the monsters by gouging out their eyes and biting their necks, exemplifying that humanity has not evolved too far past its primal nature. She then confronts Juno and shoves a pickaxe into her leg, leaving her for the rest of the creatures to find. 

This impalement is a fitting end for Juno — and a symbolic one — since it was, ultimately, her hubris that sealed all their fates. Had Juno not lied about their cave destination, or arrogantly left behind their guidebooks, they might have survived. It's only fitting, then, that Sarah hobble Juno the same way she disadvantaged her friends and cost them their lives.  

Sarah then pushes forward and finds an escape, fleeing the area. She is then is confronted by a vision of Juno's corpse — and this is where the U.S. version ends. Here, Sarah definitely survived the ordeal but we are shown how the experience has completely traumatized her already fragile mental state, implying that despite outward appearances, this might be the darker ending. Hints about her previous state of mind are shown as hallucinations of her daughter, right after the car accident, and scenes of her taking unspecified medication. 

Although she survived, the implication is that she may never actually recover from her trauma. 

The U.K. ending has Sarah unable to escape

The United Kingdom version, however, continues past this scene: after seeing Juno, Sarah finds herself waking up back in the cave, making it clear that her escape was a mirage. Another hallucination then appears in front of her in the form of her daughter in front of a birthday cake, another obvious illusion. 

Here, Sarah has suffered a complete mental break from the real world. Her already fragile mental state is shattered by losing all of her friends after the death or her family, and then learning of her husband's betrayal robs her of his memories as well. Though she may have felt alone after her family's death, now she is truly isolated in every sense of the word. Unable to even take comfort in the memory of her marriage, the only thought left that brings her any solace is her daughter. 

Though Sarah tried to save her friends, she was powerless to rescue them: the same way she was unable to protect her family. Unlike Juno, though, who was unable to face the consequences of her actions, Sarah sits silently as the sound of crawlers in the distance make it clear that she has no chance of survival and has accepted her fate. 

Though the U.K. version might seem more bleak, in certain regards, both endings illustrate Sarah's descent into madness before her ultimate fate. In both endings, the experiences of the film prove to be her destruction, whether in the short term — as in the U.K. film — or in the longer, more drawn out pain of the U.S. ending.