As a reviewer, I approach all movies with an impartial attitude. Sure, there are times when I read a lot of hype so going in my expectations are high. But 99.9% of the time I don’t have an opinion about a flick before I see it (other than the typical, “I heard good things about this one; I can’t wait to see it).That other .1% – well, sometimes I just can’t help myself. THE DESCENT: PART 2 falls into that .1%.
It’s no mystery that I absolutely love 2005’s THE DESCENT. It was, in fact, my third favorite movie of the last decade. Its success was due to the brilliant Neil Marshall and the great characters, great story, and great creatures he created. So when I heard that THE DESCENT: PART 2 was being made and Marshall wasn’t directing or writing it, my heart sank. How could the new director expect to recreate even half of the claustrophobic and horrifying atmosphere of the original? I admit that when I sat down to watch this one last night, I was expecting to hate it.
Well I’m very happy to say that I didn’t “hate” it and that I actually rather enjoyed it. The story picks up exactly, and I mean exactly, where the first part ended. Sarah, played again by the hot Shauna MacDonald, has escaped from the uncharted cave system after being attacked by the crawlers (those bat-like creatures who have lived in the cave system evolving over thousands of years). At the same time, across the county there is a search and rescue party looking for the group of girl’s from the first film (remember Juno turned in one map and then took the girls to a different location in order to be the first ones to explore the uncharted cave system). Sarah, understandably in shock, is unable to explain where her friends are and why she is covered from head to toe in their blood.
Since she can’t say what happened, the sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) forces her back into the caves to help him and a small rescue team find any survivors. Yes, this part is pretty retarded. Sarah is pretty much paralyzed with post traumatic shock, and she is forced to put some fresh gear on and head up the rescue team? Not likely. And why doesn’t anyone from the rescue team, made up of six people including Sarah, tell anyone else where they’re going? None of the other rescuers know that these six people are descending into the cave system. Again: it doesn’t make any sense, but I guess they needed to get Sarah back into the cave somehow!
This is the basic set up. Sounds simple, and it is. But somehow first time director Jon Harris makes it work. He manages to give us some genuine scares and tense moments. It probably helps that Harris was the editor on the first movie, so he is familiar with what made the first one work. But then about half way through the flick, you realize that you are watching the exact same story as the original THE DESCENT. We get the standard cave-in, the event that separates some of our characters, and the inevitable “twist” (here the twist is that one of the girls from the first flick managed to survive). And I may sound like I’m criticizing THE DESCENT: PART 2 for this (and I am to a point), but I’m also patting it on the back for not trying to distance itself from the original.
We all know that the creatures are down there and that they’re gonna attack our new group: that’s a given; there was no way the writers could avoid that. We also know we wouldn’t get as strong and unique a cast as the first one. The fact they were all strong and fiercely independent women in the original was a great touch by Marshall. These were the two main elements that made the first movie so goddamn good. So instead of taking the sequel into new territory and possibly alienating the fan base from the original, the film makers decided to stick to the winning formula and put their own touches on it. There are also a lot of flash backs to the first film giving this a very nostalgic feel. The decision to keep the same basic pattern, for the most part, works. And hey, lets be honest: isn’t this the same thing that Raimi did with EVIL DEAD 2?? The first two EVIL DEADs are pretty much the same friggin’ movie. Think about it.
This isn’t to say that everything works. The script is at times very uneven, and the characters do a lot of very stupid things. Sarah’s character suddenly snaps out of her near-catatonia and starts kicking ass; not a lot real development with her. But Harris keeps everything moving along at a really nice pace and keeps the scares and gore at a nice high level.
This brings us to the final two characters of the film: The Crawlers and the cave itself. I haven’t done a frame-by-frame comparison of the two THE DESCENT’s, but it sure as hell looks like they used the same cave sets in both. Harris recaptures the claustrophobic atmosphere that will have you gasping for breath just like the characters (one of whom survives the cave-in, trapped in a very enclosed space with a crawler trying to get to her – that was one of the best scenes in the film. So if you like the cave sets in the first you’ll like them here again, although Harris doesn’t do quite as good a job of making the cave itself a menacing character, as Marshall did.
Overall I wasn’t crazy about what the writers did with the crawlers. The crawlers – according to Marshall, who created them – are “cave people who never left the caves.” They evolved over thousands of years and are blind with heightened senses of smell and hearing. They are pure instinct and live essentially to survive. THE DESCENT portrayed this beautifully, but in THE DESCENT: PART 2 it almost seems as if the crawlers are killing our rescue team simply to kill them, not for food. Some of the crawlers are also fucking ripped like body builders and throw around some of the girls like rag dolls. I didn’t think they had super-human strength. And in an odd turn we do get to see a crawler squat and take a shit (I could’ve gone my entire life without seeing that).
If you loved THE DESCENT, then you will enjoy THE DESCENT: PART 2. It’s essentially the same story arc with a couple returning characters, a fast pace, decent looking creatures, and ample gore. There are definitely problems with the script (like the ending: was that really necessary?); the lack of Neil Marshall’s presence is felt, and the crawlers seem to have bought a weight-lifting bench and Ripped-Muscle Energy Fuel, but overall it’s a solid horror flick that you’ll enjoy. I recommend it.
- Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
- Gore: 6.5 out of 10 skulls
- Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
THE DESCENT: PART 2 (copyright: 2009; U.S. DVD release: April 27, 2010). Directed by Jon Harris. Screenplay by J Blakeson, James McCarthy, James Watkins, based on characters created by Neil Marshall (uncredited). Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Douglas Hodge, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern, Krysten Cummings, Doug Ballard, Josh Cole, Saskia Mulder, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid, Nora-Jane Noone, MyAnna Buring.