The Descent: Part II

Director    Jon Harris
Starring    Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Krysten Cummings, Joshua Dallas, MyAnna Buring, Saskia Mulder
Release    2010 (US) 2 DEC (UK)    Certificate 18
3 stars


4th December 2009

Although the premise of these films involves groups of people going very much in a downwards direction, this sequel has one hell of an upward journey if it is to match the sheer tension and claustrophobia of Neil Marshall's 2005 original.

True, The Descent was heralded as a work of horror genius by some, but perhaps it was put on too high a pedestal. Returning to it, you'll find a lot working against it, in terms of scare structure and characterisation. These are two things that the sequel manages to improve on.

Bizarrely, Part II picks up where the American ending left off - you know, the shiny happy ending where (spoiler) everything ends just fine and dandy. Our heroine, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), blood-spattered and suffering from amnesia (how trite), is taken in by the local authorities. We learn that the locals are on the ball when it comes to missing persons and have been searching the cave system the girls were in already.

But with Sarah covered in a lot of blood, the Sheriff thinks it's a good idea to haul her out of hospital (still clueless as to what is going on and clearly delusional) and force her underground again with the team. Contrived? You bet. This is the aspect of the movie that's the hardest to swallow.

[gallery]Characters are fairly thinly layered, and there are, of course a couple of fake scares, just to remind us that we are watching a horror film. The problem with these 'cat in the cupboard' moments is that they show the filmmakers' inability to scare through story. Popcorn audiences demand a shock every 10 minutes, so a few scenes of characters appearing unexpectedly or dogs bolting out of barn doors serve as frights even though the plot doesn't dictate that anything exciting is happening.

Once the team of six get into the cave system, the film does improve. The characters are forced to interact with each other and tension starts to mount. Thankfully they hired a decent set of actors to pull it all off, because the team don't always do what they're told. Even though the cave-dwelling creatures react to sound, that doesn't stop some of them screaming at the top of their lungs. Idiots. They deserve to die.

Director Harris (editor of the original Descent) has managed to put his characters in some pretty tough survival situations, and they aren't always as predictable as you'd think. Normally, when someone who's not the lead finds themselves in dire trouble, they'd be rapping on the Reaper's door there and then. Eden Lake writer James Watkins manages to make these characters jump through a few more tense hoops before killing anyone off. It helps make the film a bit more credible and gives the performers a chance to do a little acting along the way, even if that means a series of petrified looks and lots of sweating.

The Crawlers themselves are a lot dirtier looking, which makes sense considering the setting they live in. But they also present the biggest challenge, which the filmmakers just about get away with, which is the premise itself. It is literally just people in a cave surrounded by nasty monsters. Again. It's flaky at best and just about worked for the first film, but to stretch it to a sequel is pushing one's luck.

In short, it's a film that never needed to be made and feels like it's on borrowed time from minute one. If you can get past the shameless premise, startles over scares and the hokey plot twists, then The Descent: Part II just about qualifies as mindless entertainment, but it's got 'average' running through it like a stick of rock.

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