Firstly, I need to disclose something. On the day I saw The Descent: Part 2 I was in a foul mood. It had been one of those days that started badly and ended the same way. I was tired, frustrated and angry with work, which was then compounded by a packed train into central London and cold, rainy weather.
However, there’s nothing like a bit of horror to cheer me up so I continued on, took my place at the screening and made sure to sit near the front to ensure no one blocked my view (also limited by the fact the cinema was packed), settling in to try and relax for the first time that day.
This wasn’t to be.
The film started and luck dictated that the girl sat behind me had decided to bring three friends, one of whom decided to spend the entire film giving his own commentary, spouting clichéd macho bullshit like he was Oscar Wilde, jeering at other people for quietly enjoying the film, “Quiet people crack me up, innit!”, while adding such witticisms as “I’d do her in the cave!”. When the film ended, he and his friend, in their charming, wannabe gangsta way also had this conversation:
“Ah, man the message of that movie is be quiet and you live…”
“Yeah, but what if a woman was being raped?”
“Dat is bad, bruv!”
Excellent work – nonsensical, threatening and offensive. Well done you stupid, selfish, rude little shits. Anyway, it does have its relevance in the review and it’s only fair to state the above in the name of honesty, as we’ve probably all had films ruined by an inconsiderate person/people at some point in our cinema going years and it can impact on the enjoyment of a film massively. With that in mind, I’ll focus on the movie and try and do my job…
The main problem that Descent 2 suffers from is in its comparison to the first film. The night before the screening, I re-watched the first Descent for only the second time since its cinematic release, coming to the late realisation that it was utterly superb, and far more affecting than I had remembered, being masterfully shot and acted, while remaining intensely scary and claustrophobic throughout.
Journalists have a tendency to use clichéd hyperbole on a regular basis to sell films, but The Descent really is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in the last decade, I think it was just slightly overshadowed on release by my existing love of Dog Soldiers.
The DVD of The Descent also features a DTS soundtrack, which, if you’ve never experienced before, makes all the difference and by rights should be compulsory on all horror and action discs, relevant because the key to some of the scares in the first film were down to some fantastic sound design and loud shocks.
Unfortunately for The Descent: Part 2, the loud jumps that did come weren’t strong enough to shake me in any way, as, for the most part (like so much of the film), they were fairly well sign posted.
Even the fool behind me took great part in shouting out what was going to happen next and if he could predict most of the events, then most of us won’t fail to do the same and that’s not a good sign.
D2 is a sequel in the truest sense, being more Americanised, less subtle, cruder and a lot gorier. Luckily for me, that’s not always a bad thing in a horror sequel and, for the most part, the film was more fun than it had any right to be.
Some of the action set pieces were exhilarating in their brutality, with the tongue in cheek style of the film being, surely, the only way to go, as trying to match the original Descent in tone would prove impossible when the premise, revelations and creatures have already been revealed.
The addition of a toilet scene was a step too far, though, and gave other, less impressed, writers an immediate chance to start bandying the term ‘shit’ around in a spiteful way.
D2 continues on its problematic journey by (literally, at one point) hanging on to scenes and aspects from the first film, so some scenes were almost farcical in their playing. This did appear to be intentional as far as I could tell, but meant the film became confused at times as to what it was trying to be. (Some scenes, it should be noted, are exactly the same as the first, even replaying footage from the original as a set up.)
There was no time to really bond with the characters, including a gun toting sheriff from the Brian Dennehy School of Law Enforcement, who makes decisions that irritate in all kinds of contrived ways. But while most of the performances were strong, some of the dialogue had the audience in fits of unintentional laugher. When one character is asked what the creatures are, the reply is, “They’re death.” Not good.
I always try to be loyal to horror sequels and I found myself really wanting Descent 2 to be better than it was, as, for every step it took towards being great, it was hindered by such lazy contrivances as having Shauna Macdonald’s character, Sarah, suffer from a convenient bout of amnesia before being thrown back down into the caves before she can even get dressed, to the awful end which could’ve been taken from just about every bad horror flick I’ve seen in the last few years.
The excellent Shauna Macdonald really has no room to breathe (no pun intended), with no chance to show the incredible range she did in the first film. This should’ve been her chance to return to face her fears as Ripley did in Aliens, but the script just can’t quite deliver the gravitas or originality needed to work on different emotional levels.
You can see D2 attempt to follow in Aliens’ footsteps at times, but they’re clumsily done. Here we have experienced climbers, two cops and Sarah, yet the exposition is clumsy, the characters less sympathetic and the locations mostly familiar. Mostly.
Giving a character a child does not automatically equal characterisation, nor does adding a quick reference to a previous event, and the uniqueness of the bonding experience from the first film is gone, as is the very real British feeling which made The Descent a more intimate experience for me.
It’s a real shame that The Descent: Part 2 happened to be a follow up to such a superb film, as, in its own right, it managed to be thoroughly enjoyable when it hit its gory high points (any horror film with a drill gets points from me) and the blood does gush throughout the movie. But the two films are intrinsically linked and that can’t be ignored.
Before seeing Descent 2 I thought it was a brave move to make a direct sequel, but after watching it I wish it had fully embraced its schlocky influence and been a completely separate movie.
It’s fun, but in no way clever and a second viewing won’t change its weaknesses.
[We’ve left a star rating off, given the ‘audience issues’ we had while watching the film.]