Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Descent Part 2 (2009)(Minor Spoilers Review)

This review contains MINOR spoilers, no major reveals, surprises, or character deaths.

The Story- Two days after the horrific events inside the dangerous cave system, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) finally escapes, as the sole survivor. A bloodied and bruised Sarah catches Ed Oswald’s (Michael J. Reynolds) attention on the streets, and Sarah is rushed to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Dan (Douglas Hodge) leads a search party for Juno and the others with some help from Greg (Joshua Dallas) and Cath (Anna Skellern), and the search gains extra media attention, when Juno’s family ties to a US senator as his niece are revealed. Dan, Greg, and Cath are spelunking experts, but they’re looking in the wrong cave, because the group is unaware of Juno’s plans to explore the uncharted cave system during the original expedition. 

At he hospital, a disorientated and heavily sedated Sarah awakes, but Sarah has no memory of what happened in the cave. Deputy Ellen Rios (Krysten Cummings) questions Sarah about the events in the caves, and the whereabouts of her friends, but a defensive and confused Sarah can’t give Rios the answers she wants. Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) has trouble buying into Sarah’s sudden memory loss, so he orders the doctor to run a blood test for Sarah’s bloodstained clothing, and the test results reveal traces of Juno’s (Natalie Mendoza) blood type.

A bloodhound leads Ed and another officer to a dilapidated mineshaft in the woods, and with some help from Ed, a new entrance into the unmapped cave system is found. Sheriff Vaines quietly organizes a search party to avoid any media attention, and Vaines recruits Dan, Greg, and Cath to look for Juno and the others. Rios joins the team, and Vaines has plans to use her knowledge of the system for guidance, so he forces a reluctant and petrified Sarah to tag along. 

Sarah is still struggling to remember what happened in the caves, and Vaines and the others don’t know about the massacre during the first expedition. Ed assists the group with the descent into the caves, but the group stumbles across a series of startling discoveries in the abandoned mine and the cave system. As the group searches for survivors, clues, and familiar passages, Rebecca’s mangled corpse triggers Sarah’s memory, and a series of flashbacks help Sarah remember what happened the first time around.

With no time to explain or convince the rest of the group, a revitalized Sarah escapes the pack after a series of kicks to Vaines’ face. Thoroughly convinced Sarah is responsible for the murders, Vaines relentlessly pursues her, while the others try to regroup. But Vaines sets off a series of chaotic events, when he fires his gun, causing a dangerous cave-in. Cath is trapped underneath a mound of rocks and dirt, and the group is forced to fight for their lives, when the crawlers emerge. Sarah, Vaines, and the rest of the group will have to work together, if they want to escape the cave system alive, but a surprising return complicates the rescue mission…..

Review- Remember the strong characters, who were  willing to scrap until their last breath in The Descent? Well, when Sarah regains her memory, she instantly transforms into the fierce fighter with a never say die attitude again, and as the story progresses, Sarah takes Rios under her wing as a protégé, so she can teach her how to evade the crawlers, how to fight them, and how to navigate the tight passageways. And Sarah has a soft spot for Rios, when she learns about the tender relationship with Rios’ young daughter (remember, Sarah’s young daughter lost her life in the car accident). Towards the end, Rios turns the corner, as she embraces a more aggressive mean streak, because she realizes she can’t hold back anything, if she wants to fight the crawlers and escape.

Yeah, I get it. If you’re stuck underground with an army of flesh-eating creatures, a limited supply of resources and supplies, and no communications to the outside world, you’re going to be scared. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of panic and fear, because you’re stuck in an unprecedented situation.

Strong and fearless female characters (well, to be fair it’s just Juno and Sarah for the most part), who were willing to risk it all helped the original stand out amongst the pack, and The Descent provided a refreshing change of pace for horror films. But in The Descent 2, you get the feeling they wanted to settle for your typical set of “Don’t go in there!” or “Don’t do that!” horror movie characters, complete with head shaking, facepalming, and frantic finger pointing from the audience. I don’t have any real complaints about Dan, and Greg has one act of nobility in the sequel, but it’s hard to forget the “OH MY GOD WHAT’S HAPENNING!?!?!?” moments, and Cath is the panicky trainwreck, who screams and freaks out every five minutes. Also, one real head scratcher happens, when the group wanders through the old abandoned mine. There’s a boarded up entrance with skull and crossbones and “Do not enter” written on the front……but the group ignores the sign, and they decide to continue the search without a real debate? Seriously?

But Sheriff Vaines takes the cake for stupidity here. Vaines is warned about the dangers of brining a loaded gun into the caves, but of course he refuses to leave his gun (remember, Vaines’ gunshot caused the big cave-in) behind, because he’s too stubborn to listen to the experts. To make matters worse, Sheriff Vaines’ baffling animosity towards Sarah is beyond foolish. From start to finish, Vaines makes it clear he doesn’t like or trust Sarah, so he handcuffs himself to Sarah to prevent another escape attempt, but during the search and rescue mission, it’s clear the crawlers were responsible for the murders.

If you’re familiar with The Descent 2005, The Descent Part 2 can be a frustrating film at times with some noticeable pet peeves. You already know the crawlers are blind creatures/humanoids, who use sound to track and hunt their prey, and you already know, Rebecca, Sam, Beth, and Holly are dead, so it’s kind  of hard to sit back and watch the “We have to find them!” rescue mission unfold. Also, I know Cath, Greg, Dan, Vaines, and Rios are supposed to be the newbies, so they don’t know anything about the crawlers, but watching the new group scream, shout, and use their radios, when you know they’re basically serving themselves up to the crawlers on a sliver platter brings one too many eye rolling reactions out of me.

And to add another strange twist for this sequel, you really need to stretch suspension of disbelief  to buy into Sarah’s sudden memory loss. As the audience, are we really supposed to believe Sarah can just forget or completely blackout to the point, where she doesn’t remember what happened in the first film? Don’t get me wrong, The Descent Part 2 kicks into high gear, when ass-kicker Sarah returns, and I get the point of Sarah being traumatized to the point, where she wants to block everything out. But Part 2 almost crosses a slap in the face line, because they seriously expect you to believe in the possibility of a character drawing a blank two days later after engaging in deadly fights with flesh-eating creatures, and watching her best friends die horrifying deaths.

You’ll see a few select returns from characters in the original film. But for the most part, it’s just archived footage (for Sarah’s flashbacks) from the first film, and if we’re talking about physical returns, Rebecca and Sam are just rotting and decaying corpses, and their bodies are literally in the same locations from the first film.

I’ve re-watched this one more times than I can count over the years, and I still have mixed feelings for The Descent Part 2. On one hand, it’s not a terrible film, not by a longshot, but Part 2 is a noticeable step down, when you compare it to the original. Part 2 is bogged down by some unnecessary jump scares (including a lukewarm fakeout jumpscare), having to buy into a questionable story (i.e. Sarah’s memory loss), and you have a few dumb horror movie character moments here.

With all that said, The Descent Part 2 is still MUCH better than most horror sequels or horror number twos, and to be fair, topping or coming close to the critically acclaimed original would’ve been damn near impossible. Shauna Macdonlad’s return gives the sequel a boost, Macdonald delivers another strong performance, and the rest of the supporting cast ranges from decent to solid. Part 2 features a handful of terrifying and suspenful close calls, and you can make the argument for Part 2 trumping the original in the nail-biting claustrophobia department.

Plus, the sequel reintroduces some familiar remnants and themes from the original with sacrifice, bravery, and strong female characters, as Rios comes into her own as a fighter under Sarah’s tutelage. To add to that, when it comes to gross-out moments and gore, Part 2 is not afraid to hold back, at all. A rat crawling out of Rebecca’s dead body, the blood from Sam’s hanging corpse dripping onto and drenching Cath’s face, and Rios using a pickaxe to chop off Vaines’ arm. Oh, and it’s hard to forget about Sarah and Rios accidentally stumbling into the crawler’s pit of feces, and having to quietly watch a crawler use the bathroom.

If we’re talking about the crawlers, outside of a few facial changes, there’s not a big difference between the original and Part 2. But I’ll say this, adding the large, hulking crawler to the pack was a nice touch. He appears during the tail end of the film, but the large crawler’s size and build as a behemoth gives him more of an intimidating and threatening demeanor, and he’s the only large crawler in the pack, so he can stand out with a “one of a kind” presence.

A few bonus points for a shocking return, and I have some complaints for some noticeable horror tropes here, but it could’ve been worse, much worse. Think about all the cheap and watered down horror sequels/straight-to-video abominations that try to capitalize off of a successful original for the sake of making a quick profit. You know the formula: a lazy and tedious screenplay with references and winks to the original, a disposable new cast of characters, poor production values, and shoddy directing. In the end, the sequel is not without its flaws, but I’m just glad the powers that be for The Descent Part 2 made the effort to avoid the embarrassing levels of a bargain basement horror sequel disaster.

Rating- 7/10



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