Written by: J. Blakeson, James McCarthy, and James Watkins
Directed by: Jon Harris
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Gavin O’Herlihy, and Krysten Cummings
Reviewed by: Brett G.
”What are those things?”
When The Descent crawled its way into theaters around the world, it was called many things: riveting, claustrophobic, intense, compelling, even smart. One thing it wasn’t labeled as, however, was “sequel-friendly." Featuring one of the great bleak endings in horror history, it was a story that felt complete, with no avenues left to explore. That didn’t stop the film’s producers from going back to the well a few years later, and the result recently descended on home video. The Descent: Part 2 is the continuation of a story that really didn‘t need to continue, but does that keep this sequel from being a hellacious thrill ride like its predecessor?
Picking up exactly where the American (and only slightly more sequel-friendly) ending to the original film left off, Sarah has just emerged from the cave system that claimed the lives of her friends. It’s been two days since the six friends set out on their ill-fated venture, and a search party has been dispatched to find them. A traumatized Sarah can remember nothing of the ordeal, and when local authorities find a hidden entrance to the uncharted cave system, they enlist a couple of rescue workers and Sarah herself to find the missing girls. As they explore the cave, Sarah’s fractured psyche begins to piece together the events of the previous film, particularly the existence of the ravenous cave-dwelling crawlers that tore apart her friends.
Well, let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Descent: Part 2 isn’t nearly as good as its predecessor. In fact, one of its biggest problems (which it poses simply by existing) is the way in which it cheapens the original film’s narrative. More than just a gory thrill ride, The Descent was also an excellent mediation on one woman’s descent into a psychological hell, and the film’s ending represented her inability to escape both literally and figuratively. It goes without saying that the sequel eschews such a notion initially, and the film feels like the original, only stripped of all the wonderful psychological subtexts.
Of course, it’s not entirely fair to criticize the film for its failure as a sequel. As unnecessary as it is, The Descent 2 does manage to be a gruesome and entertaining little number on its own. Instead of a smart, psychological approach, this one takes the more standard horror route, complete with all the clichés the original not only avoided, but also satirically mocked as well. The cast is much more dispensable and stereotypical, serving only as crawler fodder for some admittedly impressive gore sequences. Characters are disemboweled, jugular veins are slashed, and the the crawlers themselves are strewn about with haste. There’s also a nice sequence that feels true to the original, wherein one character must be sacrificed for the sake of another in an excruciatingly gory fashion.
The story isn’t quite as compelling as the gore, as it does take a while to get things moving. The film’s second act starts off with a literal bang, and the movie moves quite nicely at this point (perhaps a bit too fast). A third act surprise does seemingly give the film a chance to revisit and re-conceptualize the original film’s themes and conflicts, but even this is brushed by the wayside. Thus, what should have been an epic, confrontational climax is washed away in a river of blood and guts, and the film’s eye-rollingly clichéd denouement doesn’t help matters. From a production standpoint, everything else is rock solid: the acting is above average, and first-time director Jon Harris does a good job in capturing all the chaos behind the camera. There are some particularly nice editing flourishes that manage to return us to the original film, and there are some otherwise striking visuals of the crawlers themselves. Viewers will also be treated to a number of nice, harrowing sequences that really ramp up the claustrophobia the first film introduced.
In the end, however, The Descent 2 fails to provide a compelling reason for its existence. Perhaps taken as a standalone film, it has its gory moments and some decent tension. Lion’s Gate has brought the film to DVD only as of this writing, with no Blu-ray announcement on the horizon. Still, even in standard definition, this one sports a solid anamorphic transfer that manages to capture the film’s claustrophobic trappings. The 5.1 soundtrack is appropriately dynamic and will have your walls rumbling on several occasions. Extras include a reel of deleted scenes, a 25 minute making-of documentary, a storyboard gallery, and an audio commentary with Harris, MacDonald, Cummings, and Skellern. Sequels are always a tough venture, even tougher when there’s very little room for one from a narrative standpoint; I figure the cast and crew did their best here with what they had, but it’s not quite enough to be anything more than an interesting horror trip back down to the caves. It’s not nearly as exciting as probing the depths of Sarah’s mind and personal hell in the first one, but fans will still likely enjoy seeing her splatter the cavern walls with the blood of the crawlers again. Rent it!
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