3/19/10

The Descent 2(2009):A Sequel That Doesn't Cave In

It’s time for another Frightening Friday, and I have something very special to talk about this week. Way back in December ‘08, I was invited to take part in The Vault of Horror’s project to determine the Top 10 Horror Films of the Modern Era. Sitting down to make the list, I immediately filled in my number one, Neil Marshall’s The Descent. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve sat down, popped in the DVD, and enjoyed every minute of the claustrophobic cavernous horror. The film leaves me breathless with its oppressive atmosphere, stylish camerawork, and a haunting emotional resonance that pervades the entire film. So when I first heard about a pending sequel, I was filled with trepidation.

It seemed that Marshall was not returning as the director, instead taking on producing duties, and the sequel had been turned over to first time director Jon Harris, who had worked as editor on the original film. Neither did the story spring from Marshall’s head. Instead, it was the brainchild of three writers, J Blakeson, James McCarthy, and James Watkins. Only Watkins has anything of note on his résumé with credits for 2005’s Eden Lake and 2002’s My Little Eye. So with an untested director, and a script by three virtually unknown writers, I saw little way that this film would have a chance. Then there was all the talk about several of the girls from the first film coming back, and I thought that would be somewhat wonky considering most of them were supposed to be dead. So when I got the opportunity to check out The Descent 2 a little early (it doesn’t hit American DVD shelves until April 27th), I thought I would be staring at a disaster for an hour and a half. What I got was a perfectly reasonable attempt to sequelize the first film though with a few problematic plot points.

Since basically no one else has seen this, I’ll keep my discussions of the film’s plot kind of brief, and there will not be any spoilers here so don’t be afraid to read on. If you’ve not seen The Descent, then you might want to quit because it would be hard for me to discuss how this movie begins without discussing the ending of the first. So with that out of the way let me give you a brief idea of the story here. A massive rescue operation is underway to find the missing girls from the first film, but, as you might recall the cave they said they were going to is nowhere near where the events of the film took place. So the police and search and rescue teams are coming up empty handed. Miles away, Sara (Shauna MacDonald), who has made it out from the cavern alive, is found by a passing motorist and taken to a local hospital. When the police arrive and examine her, she is covered with blood that matches her friend Juno Kaplan. When a police dog traces Sara’s route to an old mineshaft, Chief of Police Vaines (Gavin O’Herlihy) orders the traumatized girl out of bed, and along with a rescue team and his deputy, they travel down into the caverns in hopes of finding the girls.

I think it’s best that I leave the story there. Though I will say there are quite a lot of twists an turns in this film that I did not expect. The appearance of one character in particular was quite shocking, and sort of goes back to the problematic plot points I was talking about earlier. Unlike the first Descent, this film is much more interested in providing a few jump scares and some creepy moments rather than being an emotionally symbolic journey. It does retain some of those elements and provides a very realized full character arc for Sara, but for the most part this movie is more about the monsters in the cave. Much more is seen on them than in the first film, and though they are interesting looking, after you’ve seen a good half dozen of them, you’ve seen all the variations on the theme. They are vicious, throat biting beasts, but since no more is learned about them and they have no character to themselves, the monsters become little more than a device to make the blood start gurgling. The most unfortunate moment of the film comes when we get a completely unnecessary look at the monster’s bathroom habits. I think it was placed in the film to be a light, funny moment, but it felt so out of place in the context of this film.

Former editor, now director, Joe Harris does an admirable job or recreating the look of the first film, and the two would flow together seamlessly if watched back to back. However, Marshall had a greater command of the claustrophobic feeling that was needed for the film. I would hesitate to impugn Harris for making a film in the style that Marshall had used, and he does a fine enough job with The Descent 2 that I would be very interested in seeing him strike out on his own with an original film. At present, he doesn’t have anything on the docket, but he has landed another high profile editing job with the much-anticipated Kick Ass. Harris did himself a great service by keeping on two other members of The Descent’s crew with him for this film. Both cinematographer Sam McCurdy and composer David Julyan help to add that seamless quality that serves to join the whole film.

Unfortunately, The Descent 2 is just not the same quality film as the original. While there are parts to the film that hit the right notes, some of them were messily discordant. The ending is especially troublesome, and it exposes the film’s most massive plot hole. This clumsy fumbling seems designed to leave the franchise open to the possibility of a third film, an idea that I just can’t see working. Going back to the well is a dangerous proposition, but it paid off once. Going back again could really mess up what was so great and original with Marshall‘s original vision. I’m very interested to see what kind of response this film gets when it makes its long awaited DVD debut (though it deserved to get the same theatrical release in the States that it got around the world). As a massive fan of The Descent, I still encourage folks to check this one out when they can, and enjoy the film for what it is, an interesting variation on the themes and setting of a classic film.

Bugg Rating

7 comments:

  1. Can't wait to see this. It will send my claustrophobic ass into a tizzy again.

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  2. Theres no way I am missing the sequel, THE DESCENT ranked in my top genre films of the decade let alone 2005, so I am all in on this one

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  3. Thank you for the article, I have to admit it has made me much more interested in the film thank I was before.

    And love the new design BTW.

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  4. I just got a copy of this today and I'm actually nervous to watch it because I don't want it to spoil the original for me. Sometimes a lacking sequel to what I consider an amazing film will do that for me. I guess we'll see though! Great post!

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  5. Spot on review. Just watched this a few days ago, while an entertaining film with some nice scares, it's definitely missing Marshall.

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  6. I have to say that I am surprised they made a sequel. My interpretation of the last scenes of the movie was that no one survived. And even if she did survive, I can't imagine her going back to that pit willingly.

    Still, I enjoyed the first movie, so I think I'll give the sequel a go.

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