In that vein come modern horror classics like Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Neil Marshall’s 2005 film The Descent. On its surface, The Descent’s trap is simple: a year after the death of a close friend, a group of women decides to embark on a planned cave excavation, in tribute. From there, The Descent only becomes as winding and intricate as the caves the characters are exploring, though it never gets as messy — at least not for the viewers.
The group’s trip into an Appalachian cave involves all of the window dressing of a monster movie, but the movie’s drama gurgles to the surface. For one, the cave they’re exploring isn’t the one they planned out to excavate—Juno—the character at the crux of the friends’ fracture—is so driven to heal old wounds that she’s led the group of explorers to an uncharted section, and no one in the group will truly know where they are at any given time. Therefore, an easy escape from their spelunk is impossible. The blind, freakishly fast monsters don’t even show up until around halfway through the movie, and by then you’ve already been put through the gauntlet, especially if you’re claustrophobic and/or hate and distrust your friends. The monsters are a mere accelerant to the anxiety that pervades the film; they’re a crafty enough invention to build a perfectly watchable genre film around. That they’re just one aspect of the cavern’s horror here speaks to the depth of The Descent.