The folk who decided to make The Descent: Part 2 clearly fall into the latter camp as they have picked up just before we left off with Sarah being kind of…alive. For those among you who have never seen The Descent there is a brief recap after the jump:
Six girls go caving
Things go bump in the dark
Some of the girls die
Some of the girls kill some of the creatures
All of the girls die
The action picks up two days after the events of the first film (with Descent editor Jon Harris at the helm), the six girls have now been reported missing. Ass-kicking husband-thief Juno, it transpires, is the niece of a state senator ““ cue choppers, search and rescue teams and bumbling local law enforcement. And a welcome reprise of the sweeping aerial shots of the Appalachians accompanied by David Julyan’s heartstring twanging score. While the search and rescue team are busy not packing very much of the essential equipment needed to search for and rescue people, Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) learns that one of the girls has emerged alive. Immediately suspicious about the dreadful plot device of her apparent amnesia he takes the radical step of forcing her to return to the caves to retrace her steps and recover the missing girls. Partner Rios (Krysten Cummings) is horrified by the plan but her protests fall on deaf ears and she reluctantly joins the suicide mission.
Sarah was picked up bloodied and confused by a local who remembers talk from the old days about local mines leading to an unmapped cave system. When the cavers break through their initial excitement turns to trepidation and then carnage as Sarah’s memory begins to return and the crawlers come out to play…
Acting as executive producer for The Descent: Part 2, Neil Marshall’s only hands-on role was as director of some flashback footage featuring the original cast. It is a pity because something important has been lost here ““ the whole spirit and glee of the first film are gone ““ replaced by the trite and the downright nonsensical. I had the impression that the lack of confidence Jon Harris displayed presenting the film at Frightfest had somehow spilled onto screen. There is no identity here, only a well-trodden trudge over familiar ground towards an inevitable sequel.
Eden Lake‘s James Watkins was brought on board as a writer and a supplementary ending was added after filming wrapped but I fear the damage was already done. Had co-writers James McCarthy and J Blakeson had the experience, or the cojones, to play it dead straight they could perhaps have pulled off cliché. Drag Me to Hell managed this feat with panache. But the script dithers with contradiction, toilet humour and tired dialogue. In good bad-horror style you are left waiting for the dying to begin and that is where things dramatically improve. The Crawlers are impressively tenacious bad guys and it is eminently satisfying to watch them meet a sticky end. And the endings are darned sticky!
The Descent: Part 2 is probably not a film for lovers of…good films. What it is is a very entertaining splatter fest for lovers of gore. There is lashings of the stuff; entrails, shattered skulls, rotten corpse swings (oh yes!) and blood by the barrel load. It is a stomach-churning spectacle and potentially the reason the film may succeed. I took a second opinion with me to a recent screening and she made a very good point ““ it is a sleepover movie, a film you watch among a stack of others to scare you awake in the dark of the night. It’s a film you see with a huge gang of friends who will shield you with their popcorn, make you jump and hide out in your winter coat while you laugh at one another’s reactions and swear never ever to watch anything as horrible again.
The claustrophobia of the original is almost entirely absent and the cramped caves feel bright and spacious since the cast are no longer self-lit. Sheriff Vaines appears to be wandering around in an entirely different cave system as he rarely has to stoop. The effective half light we once shuddered to see the crawlers scuttle through has gone – to the detriment of their appearance. I’m fairly sure one of them was Clem from Buffy and another meandered off screen like a builder on a fag break – not very scary boys.
There are stand-out moments in spite of this and one scene in particular had me vertiginous with fear. Elen Rios loses Sarah in a flooded chamber as they try to follow the flow of water to the exit Sarah first escaped by. She has inches of breathing space and her helmet thuds against the cavern roof obscuring her vision and her hearing. The only sound is the shudder of her jagged breath as she tries to stay calm and quiet – truly affecting and utterly terrifying. There is well-pitched tension too in the stalking of a trapped rescuer (they are the worst rescue team in the history of cinema!) and the return of another familiar face.
At the film’s Frightfest premiere Shauna Macdonald confessed that her return was due, in part, to the control she was able to have over her role. For this reason the character of Sarah is untainted by the facile script and plot. There are, perhaps, one too many visual Carrie references but her resemblance to Sissy Spacek is uncanny. She also pleaded for the audience to be kind to Jon Harris – a feat which, I fear, may prove impossible. However, this was a mammoth production to undertake for a debut director and a brave step for a man already hugely successful in his own field. The Descent: Part 2 may not linger long in our memories but it will make tens of thousands of teens very happy. Far from the worst film you could see this year, it would make an ideal date night movie for a giggle and I can’t think of a better excuse to hold hands!
The Descent: Part 2 released December 4th (previews 2nd & 3rd)
© 2009 Pathé