Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
Sequels are almost as common throughout the horror genre as dead bodies, and any horror film with a hint of a fan base can expect to see a follow-up or two (and inexplicably they sometimes go to space… see Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Leprechaun). Neil Marshall’s fantastic 2005 film, The Descent, is no different. That movie follows a group of female friends who go spelunking in the wilds of Virginia and come face to face with some cannibalistic, humanoid, underground dwellers. Spoiler coming for those who haven’t seen it… the expedition ends with no survivors. That is, unless you’ve watched the US edit that ends with one survivor. It’s a long story, but all that matters is that Part 2 picks up almost immediately after that US ending.
Six women have gone missing in the hills of Virginia, and as a large rescue operation gets underway where the women reportedly went caving, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) appears miles away in shock and covered in blood. She’s suffering from a case of cinematic amnesia and is unable to remember what transpired over the past two days, so Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) decides to drag her back to the hole in the ground to help look for other survivors. Along for the ride are Deputy Rios (Krysten Cummings) and three interchangeable rescue workers. They arrive at the caves and almost immediately a perfect storm of monsters, stupidity, and cartoonish suspicion on behalf of the sheriff towards Sarah sends the team scattering in different directions.
Sarah had a fantastic character arc in the first film as she moved from a devastating loss to a rediscovered will to live. She was the core of the movie both as the person we cared about and the one we pulled for throughout her struggle to survive… but she’s an empty shell here, and no one else steps up as someone worth giving a damn about. Deputy Rios is meant to be the sequel’s heart, but she’s such a weak character and Cummings’ performance is so soft that she never really overcomes her caricature. A certain other character from the first film makes a return appearance, and her first scene here is the movie’s most rousing moment. Her arrival increases the emotional content from zero to a smidgen, but it’s still not enough to warrant much in the way of character investment. The other characters are mostly (and instantly) forgettable with the exception of the sheriff who is designed from page one to be a complete tool and the one responsible for stupid decision after stupid decision.
In addition to the living, breathing people and creatures inhabiting the film, the caves themselves are just as important of a character. Or at least they should be… but instead of anything resembling an ominous underground cavern or claustrophobic system of tunnels we’re given an environment that rarely feels all that threatening. Aside from one scene involving a swim through thin tunnels filled with water, the movie fails to ever feel tight or constricted. The dark is absent as well since these caves have apparently had track lighting installed in the two days since part one…
The film is directed by Jon Harris who edited first film (as well as Kick-Ass and many others) and was written by J Blakeson, James McCarthy, and James Watkins (Eden Lake). They’ve managed to fill the film with several bloody moments including a fantastic amputation, but their use of jump scares is obvious and often telegraphed. They do get credit though for replaying the classic one from the first film (via found video camera) and then punctuating the scene with their own paler copy.
I won’t be spoiling it for those of you planning on watching The Descent Part 2, but I can’t leave without acknowledging that the ending is absolutely terrible. The proper ending is fine, but the final minute is a sad stab at recreating the hopelessness from the original film’s UK denouement. Not only is it a lazy attempt at a shock ending, it’s a cheap one too. After everything that’s transpired and the drama witnessed in the final few minutes, the ending here is a slap in the face as opposed to a punch to the gut that the film-makers intended. It also makes zero sense in light of Sarah’s rescue during the opening, and whichever of the film’s three writers came up with it should be barred from ever working on a film again. (I blame Watkins based solely on the travesty that is the ending to Eden Lake.)
The question of whether or not The Descent needed a sequel became irrelevant the minute this movie began filming, so Part 2 should be viewed on its own merits and faults. There are a lot more of the latter. Minimal claustrophobia, cardboard characters, and only a handful of scares… but the movie does succeed when it comes to the blood and gore. The red(dish) stuff spurts rather liberally at times, and I’m always a sucker for a good, long amputation scene. The wet stuff along with a handful of choice moments elevate The Descent Part 2 from the bottom of the direct-to-DVD (here in the US) barrel, but it’s still recommended for die-hard horror fans only. It would have been nice to see the film-makers aim a little higher than the cliche-filled terrors here, but when you make a sequel to a movie that clearly doesn’t need and shouldn’t have one you probably can’t hope for much more.
The Descent Part 2 is currently available on import DVD and will be released in the US on April 27th.
The Upside: Bloody and gory; we get to see the lovely Natalie Mendoza onscreen again, and she kicks major ass
The Downside: Nonsensical behavior by characters and creatures alike; the old “oh no! here comes a rat when I’m trying to be quiet gag”; extremely well-lit caves for some reason; cave creatures actually look like guys with chiseled abs; ending is a ridiculous attempt at shock