The Descent: Part Two

The Descent: Part Two


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

In 2005 Neil Marshall followed up his Dog Soldiers debut with the superlative Brit horror The Descent. Intelligent, thrilling and unnerving, it has since been hailed as one of the genre films of the decade. Well, if you’ve got the chutzpah to follow up such an exceptional original you’re going to have to make it as least as good, otherwise why bother, right?

Wrong. Maybe just cashing in on the predecessor’s success and reputation is grounds enough. I can’t see any other reason for Part 2 to be around. Unfortunately, this delivers the kind of disappointment you always fear a sequel to a great first film will.

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Comparisons between the two are not only inevitable, they feel necessary, as the action here starts right where the first one finished. Where the American cut finished, that is, which never saw surviving heroine Sarah back in the cave at the very end. Rubbishing one of the finer points in the UK release makes for an uncomfortable start.

So Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is out of the Appalachian mountain, but distraught, covered in blood and has little memory of the horrors she has just survived. Nevertheless, there’s a potholing rescue party out looking for the doomed group and the local sheriff (Gavin O'Herlihy) isn’t calling them off just yet. Sceptical of Sarah’s half-explanations and mental state, he gathers the rescuers to lead them back into the caves near where she was found. And insists that Sarah joins them. Yep, he drags her, traumatised and hospitalised, back underground when she can’t remember what happened to her a few hours ago.

Sadly, this is not the only head-crackingly blunt plot device. The first film placed the spicy all-female expedition in an incredible situation, but at least their actions within it made some sense. Here we get a mixed gender group with no dramatic fizzle lurching from one episode to the next with little proper reasoning. When the story has no heart, you care less about the people getting theirs ripped from their bodies. O'Herlihy clearly thinks so, too, judging by his lacklustre one-tone performance.

When the ripping starts, the group gets split up and Sarah snaps back into feral survivor mode, taking single mother cop Rios (Krysten Cummings) along with her. Soon it becomes apparent that not everyone is as dead as they thought and those vicious Crawlers are proving hungrily persistent.

Given that Part 2 is trying to segue directly from the events of the first film, it would feel right for Sarah to meet the same kind of flesh-eating creatures again. They’re Crawlers all right, and just as animalistic and savage as before, but they’ve been ‘improved’. More teeth, a slightly different look, camouflaging skin and hints of a whole different tribe of them don’t bring anything meaningful to the mix, though. Rather this emphasises a desire to develop the Crawlers somehow, to give the returning audience a new twist on the psychodynamic creatures. It’s a totally unnecessary venture which only serves to break the narrative logic between the two films and highlight the follow-up’s faults.

Some of the set design, or debut director Jon Harris’ use of it, is also less than convincing, clearly making things feel studio-bound. This is a shame because at other times Harris (editor on the original) recreates the primal dread of being trapped underground well. However, the two most frustrating disappointments are the script and his handling of the horror.

Marshall penned the first film and demonstrated a deft hand for interplay between his rounded characters. Part 2 suffers from an aggregation of three writers (including, surprisingly, Eden Lake’s James Watkins) that produces hammier lines and a sense that no one person was keeping an eye and ear on the whole. It leads to an emotional and physical pay off for Sarah, Rios and the audience that is a wilting let down. Then there are the poorly conceived moments of humour, as if they know some of this could be played for genre laughs. In a Descent film?

Harris does deliver some stock shocks and sometimes creates truly effective moments of rising apprehension by simply slowly moving the frame into holes of pitch blackness. However, most of the time he shies away from the psychological and visceral horror that the former film was so good at. On more than several occasions he just resorts to prolonged graphic scenes of body goo and lingering gore. Perhaps this is a leaden influence from the glut of torture-porn movies that followed The Descent, but here it feels uninventive, cheap and unsatisfactory. Alas, much like the film.

In any cut The Descent ended with a far from happy ending and that’s no exception here. It’s left glaringly open for Part 3.

Reviewed on: 04 Dec 2009
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The Descent: Part Two packshot
The survivor of the first film is forced to lead a rescue party in search of her missing friends.
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Director: Jon Harris

Writer: J Blakeson, James McCarthy, James Watkins

Starring: Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Douglas Hodge, Krysten Cummings, Gavan O’Herlihy

Year: 2009

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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