Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Shocktober Revisited: The Descent Part 2

Folks, I have good news and bad news. Let's get the bad news out of the way first.

By definition, The Descent: Part 2 is an unnecessary sequel. There is no reason for the film to exist, because the story is predicated on an assumption that director Neil Marshall's original ending to The Descent didn't happen. For you to even buy into The Descent: Part 2, viewers need to go with the truncated "American" ending, where Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) does escape and drives off for that last minute jump scare. The movie tries to play off her escape from the caves in a different way, but it still undermines the original ending, where it's clear she's bonkers and never leaving. But let's say we buy into that for the sake of watching this film - which is not directed or written by Marshall - and simply move forward.

So two days after the cast of The Descent go missing, a police search is underway with media coverage. It turns out that Juno (Natalie Mendoza) is the daughter of a Senator, so there's a pressing urge to find her. When Sheriff Vaines (Gavin O'Herlihy) finds out Sarah made it out and is in a nearby hospital, he drags her - along with his deputy Ellen Rios (Krysten Cummings), a spelunking instructor (Douglas Hodge) and his assistants/students (Joshua Dallas and Anna Skellern) - back into the cave system to find Juno and the other girls. Vaines assumes that Sarah killed Juno on account of all of the blood on her clothes and her semi-catatonic state.

The biggest problems I have with The Descent: Part 2 are in the opening. There's a big hurry to get back into the caves, so Vaines brings Sarah back out to the Appalachians hours after she's taken to the hospital. In fact, there's a pretty good reason to believe she's still sedated considering how choppy the narrative is up front. The other serious issue is Vaines' insistence that instead of re-directing the search in light of this discovery, he instead keeps it hush-hush and brings along an ill-equipped search team. Two police officers with no experience underground (one of whom appears to be the department's psychiatrist), a trauma victim, two students, and only one person who seems to know what he's doing. It doesn't make any sense.

But there is good news. Once the six of them get into the caves again, things get better. While the sense of claustrophobia isn't quite as pervasive as it was in The Descent, when things get tight later in the film, it does finally get unnerving. The unmemorable characters are dispensed with quickly by the Crawlers, and there is a reasonably good sense of tension in the second half of the film, particularly after (SPOILER) Juno turns out to be alive. (one minor point of contention - the opening is pretty clear that they've only been missing two days, one of which is theoretically the day in which the first film takes place, so it's a little odd that Juno goes quite as "feral" as she does when Vaines catches up with her).

Once the teams are split up and Sarah snaps of her "Barbara in Night of the Living Dead" state, it's actually a pretty good movie. Director Jon Harris finds interesting ways to keep the caves fresh, and has the good sense not to mess with what works. The Crawlers aren't really any different than they were in the first film, and that's probably for the best. It's harder to scare viewers when all the really good reveals were used in the first film, but Part 2 finds other ways to keep things moving.

The big one, I have to say, is that the gore in this film is a) all practical, and b) really gross. It's not often that you can have one really good disgusting gore moment, but Part 2 has several. A handful of them build off of deaths from the first film, but there's one moment in particular that I both give the writers and director credit for and found alternately pretty tasteless.

I imagine that most of you remember the "blood pool" scene in The Descent, so you're expecting something like that to happen in the second film. And it does. But it's not blood this time. In fact, it isn't really clear what Sarah and Rios are swimming in until a Crawler wanders over to the edge of the pool, turns around, and shits. Yes, they've been fighting in the toilet. Gross. As stupid as it sounds, the way it's revealed is more revolting than stupid, but it should give you some idea of where Part 2 is willing to go.

The acting is kinda all over the map, but Shauna MacDonald and Natalie Mendoza are still good, and when they finally cross paths again there's a nice moment of grudging respect that either one of them survived. Krysten Cummings emerges from Part 2 as the most memorable character, which is all the better considering a much better surprise ending in this film. I'm not going to spoil it, because I honestly didn't see what ends up happening coming ahead of time. That also bumps the movie into "better than I expected" territory.

Overall, while it's nowhere in the same ball park as The Descent, I have to say that Part 2 is a reasonably fun horror movie, and much better than I was expecting it to be. I thought I'd be getting into another s. Darko "so you won't have to", but this is worth checking out. Since it's going direct to DVD, I don't need to recommend you wait to rent it, because that's really your option. It's quite watchable after a bumpy beginning, and despite the fact that there is no reason for it to exist, The Descent: Part 2 is one of the better unnecessary sequels I've seen.

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