If you’ve been reading Screen Rant for any amount of time, you’re probably aware that I’m a HUGE fan of Neil Marshall’s modern horror masterpiece, The Descent, from back in 2005 (although for some reason it didn’t hit U.S. theaters until Fall 2006). To me, it was the most effective horror film I’d seen in years, and my personal favorite since The Shining (it featured at number 1 on my list of the “Top 5 Movies That Scared the Hell Out of Me”).
It was also a film that I felt wrapped itself up very well, and in no way needed a sequel. But of course whenever a low-budget horror such as it is successful, either critically or financially, you just know they’re going to go the sequel route. Needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed at the news of The Descent: Part 2 being made, particularly because Marshall, the first film’s writer and director, wasn’t coming back to perform the same duties for the second one, only attaching himself to the project on the executive producer level (which we all know is just to get the film noticed more/give it more credibility).
Picking up literally right after Marshall left off is the first film’s editor, Jon Harris, making his directorial debut. The results unfortunately are way below the level of the first film and it’s immediately obvious this isn’t a seasoned director behind the camera. The film is often clumsy, particularly when the action – which there is a fair amount of compared to the first – is happening on-screen. There’s two major elements that the first one had that are nowhere to be seen in this one, but I’ll get to those soon.
(Warning: There will be spoilers in terms of what happened in the first Descent, and also possible mild spoilers for this sequel)
Firstly, let’s get the plot out of the way: As I said, Harris picks up right where Marshall left us all in the last one, with the one remaining member of the cave diving group, Sarah, having escaped the seemingly endless caves (we’ll get to how that may or may not make sense, depending on what version you saw). She is obviously delirious and is picked up by police and sent to hospital.
Unfortunately for Sarah, everyone else outside of the caves only have the information to go on that six women went down into the caves but only one came out, and needless to say Sarah becomes a suspect to the local law enforcement. They finally come to the conclusion that they need to go down to the caves to look for the rest of her party of women, taking Sarah with them as both their “guide” and to keep an eye on her as a suspect. So why does Sarah agree to go back down there, where she faced hell just hours previously? Well, she obviously loses her memory of everything that happened (typical…) and so doesn’t refuse as you’d logically expect.
So with the help of a local man who discovered Sarah panicked on the side of the road, there’s magically another way down to the caves other than where the group of women first entered – a shaft that leads down to some mines that are directly adjacent to the caves. With a new team, including an extra-suspicious police sheriff, Sarah must relive the nightmare she and her friends experienced.
The first of the two elements that helped make The Descent so great was the claustrophobic feeling of the cave setting. For more than half of the first movie we don’t even encounter any of the monsters that the film ends up plagued with, but rather are forced to sit through almost unbearable fear of the darkness and the close proximity of the caves around the women. The tight spaces and endless darkness creeped the hell out of me the first time around, but the new director here just isn’t able to capture the same kind of dread without resorting to blood and gore.
Speaking of which, there are bucket loads of more blood this time around. Don’t get me wrong, plenty was spilled in a host of nasty ways in the first, but for some odd reason it felt… justified. Here, a lot of the time it’s just gratuitous and bloodily violent for no reason than just to have it in there. Harris’ inexperience as a director (although he’s plenty experienced as an editor) really shows during the scenes of attack from the Crawlers (as the monsters/creatures are known) when the camera is shaky. The film then falls back on hacking away at a skull or arm (take your pick from all body parts) in an attempt to get scares. It, at least for me, rarely worked as intended.
That’s not to say there isn’t some genuinely effective scares to be found here: there were about 3 or 4 times where I legitimately jumped in my seat, mostly down to one of the monsters appearing out of nowhere, accompanied by a loud piece of music. A lot of the time it’s obvious when the jumps are coming, but there were a few times when it worked quite well.
The second element of the first film that is squandered here is the more general fact that it was an all female cast, something that you don’t often see in movies these days, particularly horrors. However, here they add at least a couple of guys to the fold, and although they’re just as “ripe for the picking” as a couple of the other new female characters, I felt it took away a lot, if not all, of the magic of the whole thing in terms of the character dynamics.
To quickly get to whether or not the continuing of the story makes sense or not – that will depend entirely on what version you saw. In the UK, the first film ended with Sarah getting out of the cave only for that to be revealed to be a dream and she’s in fact still down there, getting surrounded by the Crawlers. But the sequel chooses to COMPLETELY ignore that (not even a mention or hint anywhere as far as I could see) and go with the U.S. ending that she did escape in the end. Of course, it was necessary to do that in order to continue the franchise but for someone who saw the UK ending, it’s just confusing.
Lastly, I just want to mention the ending of the film: Of course, I’m not going to give anything away, but suffice it to say that I found the ending to be ridiculous, nonsensical, annoyingly ambiguous (read: get ready for The Decent: Part 3) and that it took away from the overall story of both movies. You may have a different reaction should you choose to see it, but for me it really didn’t work.
Overall The Descent: Part 2 is a major step down from the first film in almost every area, from the amount of scares (a whole truck load in the first to just a handful here) to the effectiveness of the gore and even down to such things as the dialogue (which is sometimes eye-rollingly cheesy) and the predictable characters (suspicious sheriff, naive young officer, eager adventurers and so on). If you liked the first one you’ll maybe get a kick out of seeing the Crawlers doing more of their vicious attacking but generally I’d say skip this one and just go rent the original.