Neil Marshall’s “The Descent”(2005) was a ‘hyped up’ horror movie that was heavily praised in the U.K. even before it reached U.S. shores. I immediately found myself expecting the worst since it was dubbed “The scariest movie ever made” and in my experience in horror films, it just means that it isn’t. Well, “The Descent” wasn’t the scariest or the most intense horror thriller I’ve ever seen, but I sure liked the film for its powerful partly thematic, partly character-driven execution. I guess the film was so successful that it had spawned a sequel with the editor of the original, Jon Harris; this time at the helm as director with “The Descent Part 2”. Please be certain to see the original before you watch this sequel.
After the events of the first film, Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) is discovered in the forests near the caves. She is suffering from shock and some memory loss as a rescue team searches for the rest of Sarah’s party. When one of the girls may have been found, sheriff Vaines (Gavin O’Herlihy) and his deputy Rios (Krysten Cummings) takes volunteers (Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellem and Douglas Hodge) and checks Sarah out of the hospital in the hopes that she can remember the caves well enough to lead them to any survivors. Sarah’s memory is a lot blurry but as soon as several horrific faces begin to show, she begins to remember…
The goal of a sequel has to be to expand on the established mythos, the themes and the characters of the original film as well as introducing new twists and surprises. It would also be a good idea not to assume that anyone who would be watching the movie would be a fan or that the viewer would have seen the original. Well, if these are the requirements, then Jon Harris’ “The Descent: Part 2” is indeed a sequel since it does fulfill most of those expectations.
It was a great idea to have Neil Marshall (as producer) and Shauna MacDonald to return for this sequel. There was an obvious ‘zinc’ in the portrayal of the Sarah character that demanded a careful hand in maneuvering her character in this sequel. Jon Harris does seem to be capable for a first time director as he appeared to respect exactly what the original was all about. Amid the stupid, dumb sequels that hurt the legacy of horror villains Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, “The Descent Part 2” does give a lot of respect to its established characters and solidifies its groundwork to make this film a worthy sequel. Sarah’s horrific journey is taken to a level that comes full circle, and the screenplay makes her story very important. It is very refreshing to see a sequel that genuinely cares for what it wants to do; unlike mainstream Hollywood, it doesn’t rely on big name stars to carry the film but instead becomes a true, real sequel.
The writing is a slower in the film’s opening minutes than in the first movie, but nonetheless, it has purpose. This is a movie that focuses on the Sarah character and while the script slows it down by giving her a case of mental block due to her intense experience, it picks up when Sarah begins to recall the events in the original piece by piece. This time around, actress Shauna MacDonald is even more focused on as she seemed to have developed this ruthless, angry and cold quality that just appears to be ready for anything. Sarah is much more…shall we say unafraid to die? She appears to have carried a sense of guilt after she had abandoned her friend, Juno (Natalie Mendoza) despite her supposed ‘justifiable’ reasons. The film does give this angle a sense of closure and does inject a surprising twist that didn’t come from nowhere. I cannot discuss this further without spoiling a key moment in the movie so you will have to see it to find out.
The only problems I see with the film is the fact that the new characters weren’t very well-developed that I thought that they were minor speed bumps to get to the film’s resolution. There is a sheriff that just repulsed the heck out of me and the other rescue volunteers appeared to be insignificant. I thought that most of them were there to just add to the body count which made the movie a little predictable. The new character of Rios (Krysten Cummings) did not match the raw appeal of the Sarah character that even though they were meant to be as parallels, it just couldn’t match MacDonald’s presence. Cummings did try, but she did feel like a nuisance several times in the film. There is also a very nice touch as we see a homage to the original’s key scene as one crawls from the darkness into the light. It was a great touch on part of the director to express the Rios and Sarah parallels.
Director Jon Harris do amp up the blood and the gore in this sequel. I guess it is a common practice to have an original’s elements to be taken to the limit. The violence and brutality are in full view as both human and monster blood (wasn’t the monster blood supposed to be green?) are spraying all over this time and adds to the film’s visceral impact. Harris do seem to like bodily fluids and saliva and even monster feces in his movies. It does have the original’s atmosphere in character posturing and cinematography but the original did manage its dark settings much more efficiently. I guess I had mixed feelings about it; seeing as the set designs seemed a little more polished that it lost some of the claustrophobic grittiness of the original.
Harris also follows through with Marshall’s established element of female empowerment and feminism as the males in the film are kept as mere secondary characters. I also thought that the film’s climax came from nowhere that didn’t match the strong thematic, character-driven ending of the original. “The Descent part 2’s” climax appeared to be another cheap shot for the possibility of another sequel. I liked the film, but after a decent first half and a strong second half, the climax just put me a little off; this led me to round down my initial rating.
Despite some flaws, “The Descent Part 2” is a very good sequel and it is the real deal. This is the story of Sarah and this sequel does develop it quite well. I do think that viewers can ignore its weaknesses as long as they are invested in the expansion of the original movie‘s premise. It is a satisfying installment for fans of the original and as much as I cannot guarantee one’s satisfaction, I can give the film a timid recommendation.
Recommended Timidly, RENT it First [3 ½ Stars] This Review is a Lunch.com Exclusive