Following the critical and commercial success of The Descent, it was inevitable that the makers would want to go back to the well for more crawler action. Following a not so successful cinema release in the UK, it now comes to DVD in both the UK and the USA. But is it a worthy sequel?
Picking up two days after the original (at least the American ending, anyway – more on that later), The Descent Part 2finds Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) as the sole survivor of the ill-fated caving adventure. Picked up by the cops, she immediately falls under suspicion from the grizzly old sheriff due to the fact she is covered in a large amount of her friend Juno’s blood.
However, Sarah can’t remember a thing about the last few days. Tracker dogs pick up her scent at an abandoned mining church, which conveniently has an old (yet still functioning) elevator shaft leading down into the abyss, and a crazy old man to operate it. Gathering a co-ed team of caving experts, the sheriff and his deputy take Sarah into the cave to uncover the truth about what happened.
I’ll start with the good points about The Descent Part 2. For a moderately low-budgeted horror film, it looks good. The sets look convincing and it’s handsomely filmed, to which credit must go to director Jon Harris (whose usual day job is as editor extraordinaire. Check out his work on the recent Kick-Ass).
It also provides a lot more effective scares than you would have expected, especially for a sequel. It’s a quality B-movie horror, and one which would sit well in any collection of that ilk. Monster killing scenes are reminiscent of 80s video nasties, and there is a hell of a lot of blood flowing, which is a definite plus in my monster horror films!
There is also not one, but two, clever plays on the iconic and ultra-jumpy reveal of the crawlers from The Descent. I shall not ruin them for you here, though. However, particular credit must go for scenes which build upon the claustrophobic tension of the original, such as a disorientating swim in the underground streams, and an early cave-in, providing as much fear for the viewer as any crawlers leaping out from the shadows.
Building on this sense of claustrophobia would have served the film far more than the way it went, which, unfortunately, opened up the experience far too much, taking away from the tension of being trapped in the cave.
The place felt far too big and well lit to be truly creepy, and in the filmmakers desire to place the new suits they had designed for the crawlers centre stage, ended up showing off far too much of their beasties, rendering them sadly un-terrifying , and more like the men in suits they were designed not to look like this time.
The Christopher Lee quote about ‘an open door’ being the most disquieting thing you could see onscreen comes to mind.
The all-female dynamic of the previous film, which was part of its innovativeness, is sadly absent here, and the mixed team does not quite have the same spark, and instead the various members (with wildly varying accents) come across as generic monster fodder, even more so as they are not given the same character material to build upon as the girls last time round.
It is hard to feel anything for them, and while the kills are technically proficient, there is no depth of emotion to them, and I find myself uncaring as to any of their fates, apart from Sarah, who is as excellent as ever, and, indeed, the beating heart of this film. And that fact is why the film falls down.
It is, in the director’s own words, “built on the bones” of The Descent, and while such faithfulness to the source material is to be commended, it comes at the cost of this films own identity. It is, sadly, too slavish to the original.
The Descent Part Two is essentially an unneeded epilogue to the first film, which at times feels like a less imaginative retread of the original, including revisiting locations of previous deaths and continuing on key conflicts from the initial effort.
Finally, and this may be nitpicking on my part, this film’s existence doesn’t really make sense. In the original UK ending, there were no survivors. So, either the events of this film never happened, or it is merely an extended nightmare of Sarah, still trapped in the cave. I choose to believe the latter…
All in all, The Descent Part 2 is a competent horror film which unfortunately falls someway short of its genuinely fresh and chilling original. It may be unfair to judge this film on another’s merits, but the two are so interlinked by story and location, it sets itself up to be judged as such, which is pity because there are genuine flashes of something far more creepy lurking beneath the surface, and one which I believe the mythology of the series could probably support.
There is an engaging and informative ‘making of ‘which explores exactly what they were trying to make and, to be fair, it really shows that their ideas and thoughts were in the right place. Seeing behind the scenes is always fun, and the image of a smiling crawler backstage is weirdly as creepy as anything in the film itself.
Other extras include storyboards and the production design gallery, which, on a horror film, is always good value and interesting.
Finally, there are a few deleted scenes which shed far more light on the artistic choices made. Most of the scenes, in fact, feature the cave rescue team and police, and their deletion hinders the ultimate emotional involvement I felt for the new characters.
The Descent Part 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.