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Who Was The Character At The End Of The Descent?

As survival horror goes, 2005's "The Descent" is ranked by many as one of the best in its genre. Following an adventurous group of friends on an ill-fated caving trip, the film sucks audiences deep into a pitch-black well of bloody terror that horrifies on multiple levels.

A year after witnessing the violent death of her husband and daughter, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is convinced by her friends to join them on an underground cave excursion in North Carolina. Thanks to the recklessness of expedition lead Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Sarah and friends Beth (Alex Reid), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Holly (Nora Jane Noone), and Sam (MyAnna Buring) soon find themselves trapped and hopelessly lost in an unknown cave system. The terror ramps up from there as the group finds mysterious cave paintings, stumbles upon what appears to be the remnants of a previous expedition, and disturbs a tribe of carnivorous cave-dwellers that hunt by sound.

"The Descent" was released in the U.K. a year before it hit U.S. theaters, and what some fans of the film may not know is that the director's original U.K. version actually had a different ending. In both cases, a character we thought dead makes a surprise reappearance in the film's final moments.

Sarah has a bloody vision of Juno at the end of The Descent

What makes "The Descent" particularly harrowing is its combination of claustrophobic setting, psychological torment, distrust, betrayal among friends, and the external terror of the ghoulish "crawlers." Survival horror being what it is, we don't expect many characters to make it out alive, and "The Descent" certainly meets genre expectations in that regard. While most of the team meets a gory end at the hands (and teeth) of crawlers, Beth is accidentally stabbed by Juno, who flees, leaving her to die alone. When Sarah learns of Beth's fate she simultaneously discovers that Juno had an affair with her husband. In the climactic battle, Sarah vengefully cripples Juno with a pickaxe to the leg and leaves her to the crawlers.

In the version seen by U.S. audiences, final girl Sarah escapes the caves and makes it back to her car. In one final jump scare, Sarah hallucinates a bloody Juno appearing in the car next to her. Juno's appearance is fraught with meaning for Sarah, suggesting she'll not only be traumatized by the terrifying events in the cave system, but she'll also forever be haunted by the knowledge of what she did to her friend.

In the original U.K. version Sarah's daughter also appears at the end

The U.K. version adds a final twist to Sarah's story. After Juno's ghastly appearance, Sarah wakes up to find herself still trapped in the caves, her escape having been another hallucination. Sarah then sees a vision of her daughter Jessica blowing out birthday candles, and Sarah smiles eerily as we hear the approach of crawlers in the background.

Many would argue that the U.K. version offers a darker ending to Sarah's story; not only does she not escape the nightmare of the caves, she has been so traumatized that she's broken from reality itself. But it could be argued that the U.S. version leaves Sarah with an even worse fate. Rather than a quick death at the hands of the crawlers, Sarah's descent continues into a life of post-traumatic guilt for her actions. 

In both cases, the appearance of ghostly visions at the end of "The Descent" provides key insights into the film's meaning.