Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Krysten Cummings, Gavan O’Herlihy
Directed by Jon Harris
Hearing that sequels to the best movies in our genre are going to be made can be an extremely daunting time for horror fans. It’s normally a bad sign when the original director refuses to return, and the death knell for expected quality is sounded when actors also refuse to step back into the shoes of returning characters.
Well, here’s The Descent Part 2, and while Neil Marshall hasn’t taken his seat behind the camera, we do have original cast members Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza reprising the roles of Sarah and Juno, respectively.
Picking up from the North American ending of The Descent, the sequel sees blood-soaked and hysterical Sarah picked up by a passing trucker and delivered to hospital. Meanwhile, a cave rescue team is busy searching the original location that the group of girls should have been spelunking in, with obviously little results. When boorish American Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) is informed that Sarah has been found, he takes Officer Rios (Krysten Cummings) along to question her. Suffering from amnesia, Sarah can’t remember what went down in the caves – even having to be reminded that her young daughter is dead – so isn’t much use. Vaines, immediately suspecting Sarah as having some involvement in her friends’ disappearance, decides there’s only one thing to do – take her back to the caves as a guide to locate the missing girls.
So, once more into the depths we go with Sarah, Rios, Vaines and rescue crew Dan (Douglas Hodge), Cath (Anna Skellern) and Greg (Joshua Dallas) all queued up for dinner time with the Crawlers.
The basic plot of The Descent Part 2 feels like it’s been lifted directly from Aliens. We have the Ripley character in Sarah (right down to having to be told her daughter is dead) being unwillingly taken back to face a nightmarish foe by people who think they know better. We learn some new things about how the Crawlers live (especially in a gross scene involving their communal toilet), and there’s even a bigger version of the monster revealed towards the end (basically an Alpha male Crawler). Unfortunately, in its attempt to jump into the action as quickly as possible, the film falls over in character development. While being a Part 2 means we don’t need to learn any more about Sarah or Juno (yes, she’s still alive down there), the other members of the rescue party (besides Rios and Vaines) are nothing but expendable Crawler-chow. A shame, considering what made the first film work so well was the group dynamic among the girls. We could feel their friendship and thus their collective terror – when one was killed, they were all affected, and this translated to the audience.
Each of the actors does his or her job well and professionally, even those who don’t have much to work with. Shauna Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza slip right back into their previous characters while Gavan O’Herlihy helps make Vaines a real over-confident, smug prick.
Krysten Cummings as Rios gives the most human performance as the only person to immediately show any sympathy for Sarah. It’s just a pity that in an attempt to make the audience root for her, the script employs the horribly cliché “Hey, baby…Mommy loves you” video message sent to her child. Sarah’s standout moment comes when the girls’ camcorder is discovered and the footage watched by the rescue team. Listening to it, her memory begins to come back, and Macdonald’s performance really makes the tension. You can see on her face that she knows what’s coming – you know what’s coming – and it does indeed at just the right moment.
When Juno appears, she’s been transformed into some kind of cave-dwelling Rambo character. Wielding her ax from the original, she’s now a proficient Crawler-killer. Her initial couple of scenes garner some unintentional laughs as she refuses to speak (remember, the Crawlers are blind) – instead giving military-style gestures with a face like she’s sucking the most sour lemon on Earth. Thankfully, things get reined in once she begins talking again, but I also felt that her quarrel with Sarah is brought to an end much too quickly. If you remember, Sarah stabbed her in the leg and left her to die in the original. Once the two meet here, they throw each other around for a bit and that’s that. This embodies the attitude of the film – it wants to get right in to the killing, gore and action so much that even this, the most vital of character moments in the story, isn’t fully explored.
First-time director Jon Harris does his best alongside cinematographer Sam McCurdy emulating the look that Marshall gave the original with scenes mostly lit by flashlights or orange/yellow and green flares. The action scenes are also shot in an extremely similar fashion; for example, our heroes’ strikes into the bodies of Crawlers are almost identical to the splashy close-ups in the first movie. Harris, however, doesn’t quite have the same grasp of space that Marshall displayed before him, meaning that The Descent Part 2 is nowhere near as claustrophobic for the audience as the film preceding it. This isn’t particularly helped by the fact that the rather rotund Vaines has absolutely no trouble moving around the caves. If he has nothing to worry about, then why should anyone else?
One scene does involve a member of the rescue crew trapped amidst collapsed rubble who attracts the unwanted attention of a hungry Crawler. This scene is very tense and effective and ends with a great gore gag, but it still can’t hold a candle to the nerve-wracking tunneling scenes in the original that didn’t even have monsters involved. A nod should go towards a brilliantly conducted jump scare, however, with Harris making exceptional use of the space inside his frame to divert your attention.
The Crawlers themselves have been slightly changed for the sequel. They’re a little more muscular looking and slightly more fearsome (their teeth are certainly more prominent); however, they’ve also been coated in a ridiculous amount of slime for some reason. This means that whenever one of them gets close and snarls at someone, you get a nice shot of a big slimy drippy mouth. Some may find this effective and disgusting, but I personally felt it went a bit too far – like the filmmakers were simply trying too hard to make the Crawlers as horrible as possible, but it just comes out looking a bit silly.
Gore-wise, The Descent Part 2 does a great job with what we all love to see. We have vicious Crawler attacks, heads crushed, throats ripped out, rotting bodies, people becoming a literal buffet and a rather fantastic arm chopping via pickax. The only time the gore disappointed was a Crawler head smashing towards the end of the movie that was very obviously just a foam rubber construction.
I’ve argued with myself quite a bit while attempting to come up with a final score for this movie, and reading this review, it may appear on the face of it that there isn’t much to like. Truth is, though, it’s a serviceable enough action sequel, but it almost completely eschews everything that made the original so special in favour of just throwing a load more people into the caves so we can watch them get killed by monsters. Sure, the original had that, but let’s not forget that the Crawlers there didn’t even show up until over an hour into the movie, which is indicative of just how well constructed The Descent was. It’s an unnecessary sequel, but it’s a watchable one. If you aren’t prepared to accept that it simply isn’t in the same league as the original, then skip it – you won’t be missing anything exceptional. But if you’re a fan of the Crawlers and want to watch some people get mangled up underground, then you’ll definitely find something to like here.
I will say, though, that the twist ending of the film is absolutely atrocious. It adds nothing but a frustrated groan to the storyline, and … you know what? I’m done arguing – it loses half a point for that alone.
3 out of 5
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