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Despite trying really hard to capture the magic of Neil Marshall’s The Descent, its sequel doesn’t come close. The Descent: Part 2 so blatantly wants to mirror its predecessor that there are tons of shots mimicking, frame for frame, old scenes. And that’s when you aren’t watching actual footage from the first film on camcorders or through Sarah Carter’s mind. But other than those rip-offs, all subtlety whatsoever has disappeared as the filmmakers decide to include ten times as much blood and gore, thinking a greater gruesome factor will mask how unnecessary this excursion is. The sole fact it was made subverts one of the most memorable parts of the original; it’s ambiguous final moments making you question whether Sarah got out of the cave or if freedom was just one more hallucination. By allowing her to be discovered and eventually enlisted to return underground with the search party seeking her friends, every bit of nuance is removed and replaced by ‘money shots’ of bashed skulls, puss-like gel squishing, and more bites to the neck then you can count. Oh how I missed the pitch-black frames of mystery, not knowing what may happen next.

Jon Harris, editor of the first as well as a number of good films, was given the impossible task of cutting his teeth on a story no one was begging for. Marshall not wanting to revisit the world himself should have shown those behind it not to bother. What made The Descent so fresh was its cast of all strong, female characters, the darkness enshrouded evil lurking just out of reach, and the human tragedy bonding these six friends together. We learn about Sarah’s husband and daughter being killed; we experience the tears as everyone rallies around her; and we’re made aware of the guilt driving Juno to overcompensate with her kindness. When someone dies, we feel the loss on each face, hearing it with every scream. And our lead is in the midst of coping with her loss, seeing nightmares whenever she closes her eyes, soon becoming unaware of what’s real and what’s not. As a result, we in the audience also have to second-guess what is on screen. Perhaps the nightcrawlers are in her head; maybe she is seeking violent retribution and the creatures are her manifestation of that anger.

Throw that all out he window; The Descent: Part 2 wants none of it. In fact, the trio of writers seems to go in the exact opposite direction for every point. We are thrust into the story as though we’d just watched the last one, so no exposition is given for the rescue workers or police we soon follow into the caves; there are now men involved, unfortunately ruining the dynamic of confident, brave women as they intrinsically become protectors of the girls crying in fear; and instead of dreams drifting into frame, we see flashbacks, only adding to the unoriginality by seeing what happened last time, sometimes right before it occurs again in almost the exact same way. Those surreal nightmares were a huge part of the psychological terror on display with the first, so their exclusion means the new entry can’t be anything more than a run-of-the-mill action/horror. A kill or be killed mentality crops up very early as the blind, bat-looking monsters arrive without a shred of shyness. Evil has a face and it isn’t afraid to make itself known, picking off our heroes one by one, the graphic impalings on full display—blood always finding a way to drip into one of the characters’ mouths.

I can’t even really praise the actors since they all end up running to hide and eventually get killed. Gavan O’Herlihy is annoyingly chauvinistic as Sheriff Vaines, making idiotic decisions crucial to plot progression and therefore rendering the screenplay unrefined; I actually liked Douglas Hodge’s Dan, he was the one man with a head on his shoulders, so of course he wouldn’t last long; Krysten Cummings’s Ellen Rios is adequate, if not conveniently written, as Sarah’s emotional stand-in—being the badass tour guide this time around, Shauna MacDonald needs a frightened victim to save; and Anna Skellern is the attractive Cath, left behind early after a mini cave-in and probably the most effective actor involved, especially when left alone in a cramped space with only a flashlight bulb to illuminate her. I will admit that it was fun to see the actresses who died in the first reappearing as those dead bodies, or maybe the effects people just did a bang-up job making fakes look exactly like them. There is one full-fledged return, however, and the inclusion has me on the fence, both thinking she added to the survival aspect, but also proved to be one more unsatisfying cog helping tie up things left open-ended in the first.

And that makes me so mad. The fact The Descent didn’t pander to its viewers by giving easy answers is its success. It also left certain things to the imagination, keeping images dark and to the side rather than in your face. I understand the need to go bigger and show heads being crunched or jugulars spraying like crazy—the neckpieces are horribly visible, ridding death scenes of any authenticity—but I couldn’t help laugh at the end. When a nest of feeding nightcrawlers corners our three heroines, the girls go off on them. Punching, kicking, slicing, dicing; at one point the camera sharply cuts to three or four obviously rubber heads being hit before compressed as though hollow, gooey material oozing out. I gave the film the benefit of the doubt for poorly executed gore moments earlier, but this one was inexcusable. Two of the performers were even in the original; what must have been going through their heads as it all spiraled out of control into camp? The worst part, though, is left for the very end. Attempting to recreate the stunning finale of the first, this one—guessed about fifteen minutes in—pales in comparison due to its randomness. I’m sorry; you can’t use a throwaway character in a climatic moment, without any motivation, and think it will fly.

The Descent: Part 2 4/10

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photography:
[1] Shauna Macdonald (‘Sarah,’ left) and Krysten Cummings (‘Rios,’ right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s The Descent: Part 2.
[2] Anna Skellern (‘Cath’) stars in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s The Descent: Part 2.

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