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SARAH’S DESCENT Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

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Page 1: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

SARAH’S DESCENTModern Primitive

and Monstrous Feminine

Page 2: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

RECAP Who are the main characters in The Descent? How are the females represented overall? What sub genre of horror does The Descent fall into?

Page 3: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

LOCATION AND SARAH The caverns themselves are intertwined with Sarah’s development as a character, pushing her and becoming part of her as she moves through the story.

Each transition in her character is signalled by a ‘birth’ from the caverns

These ‘births’ allow Sarah to transition into something ‘other’. A monstrous feminine and modern primitive.

Page 4: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

FIRST BIRTH The first of Sarah’s births occurs as they descend deeper into the caves. Sarah becomes stuck and is pulled screaming from the tight space into the open.

This first ‘birth’ signals the change in space in the cave and in Sarah’s role within it placing her as traumatised survivor rather than explorer.

Page 5: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

SECOND BIRTH Watch this scene. How do Sarah’s actions here differ from her actions previously in the film?

How do Sarah’s actions differ from others in her group?

Page 6: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine


This scene marks a change in Sarah’s character, shifting her from traumatised woman into a primitive one

At the start of this sequence Sarah has already engaged in the most vital of actions for a primitive, the creation of fire.

This is in direct contrast to her friends who remain using their

modern flares and neon glow sticks.

She then takes part in her second primitive action, unarmed combat, killing a child ‘crawler’ and in turn being attacked by its mother.

During this fight Sarah is stripped of her climbing equipment and modern utilities, further pushing her towards

a role as a primitive

Rather than the axes and modern tools used by Juno, Sarah is forced to use bone tools to defend herself using a piece of antler to kill the woman whilst using a bone club to defeat the male crawler.

Page 7: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine


Her scream marks her change into a primitive, echoing throughout the cave

Her friends mistake this for the screams of the crawlers further cementing her transition from modern to primitive for the audience.

Although this scene is clearly empowering it can also be interpreted as “a masculine fantasy in which the feminine is constituted as horrific”

This scene marks the point where Sarah assumes the masculine role in the film, her muscular body drenched in blood and her violent acts allow her to cross gender boundaries.

She has defeated the monster herself, defying societies status quo and therefore has become the monster herself.

Page 8: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

THIRD BIRTHSarah’s final birth should be one that allows her to survive

As she pulls herself free from the cave, breaking out from its symbolic ‘crotch’ formed by the roots a tree she gasps and screams.

Unable to speak or comprehend her trauma she attempts to drive away, only to be transported back to the cave. Her escape a delusion of her fractured, female mind.

Page 9: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

THE MONSTROUS FEMININE- BARBRA CREEDHorror films function as terrifying because of their emphasis on the imagery of “abjection”

To “abject” something is to reject it, and create a mental barrier between themselves and the abjected thing

Creed states that the notions of rejections can take place in 3 ways

Page 10: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

3 ABJECT RELATIONSHIPS The first relationship to rejection can be created through imagery An ‘abjected’ image is one that can contain:

Spilt blood Vomit Saliva Sweat Putrefying flesh etc…

The second relationship to ‘abjection’ is the notion of crossing a border This is not a physical border but more a societal one, stepping away from

what is acceptable and instead moving towards unacceptable or ‘abjected’ behaviour

The third relationship to ‘abjection’ is through maternity, the mother herself becomes the monster The mother becomes the monster holding onto the mother child

relationship while the child attempts to break free of it

Page 11: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

MONSTROUS FEMININE AND THE DESCENT Watch the ending of The Descent.

Thinking of this scene and the ‘Second Birth’ sequence from before how can Sarah be considered ‘abject’?

Page 12: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine

FEMALE + MONSTER The idea that the female and femininity is threatening is not a new concept in horror, but this concept is fully realised in The Descent.

Sarah undergoes a transformation from traumatised housewife, to modern primitive and monster in one.

Her position as a broken mother forces her to stay in the cave, creating a psychotic delusion to which she cannot escape.

The space she inhabits is constructed to resemble the female womb, normally a comforting life giving space, that has been distorted and twisted into realms of horror whose distorted foetuses (crawlers) live and thrive.

The women's prowess at the start if the film is slowly stripped from them as they move deeper into the cave system, until one of their own becomes the monster.

Page 13: Modern Primitive and Monstrous Feminine


Thinking of the two films you have studied for this topic how would you write an essay for this question?