Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Descent Part 2 (2009)(Spoiler Review)



This review contains spoilers.

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.

The Descent Part 2 features a few big returns, with Sarah taking center stage for the vast majority of screen time, as one of the living characters from the original, but The Descent Part 2 throws in a legit shocker towards the end……….JUNO IS STILL ALIVE! That’s right. Juno is not dead. Of course, she’s injured and limping around, because Sarah drove a pickaxe into her leg, but she’s still alive. During her short time in the caves, Juno learned how to survive, and she knows how to evade, attack, and fight the creatures. Remember, they never showed the crawlers attacking Juno during the ending in the first film. You just hear Juno’s screams, as Sarah runs for her life, and that’s it.

Okay, so we’re in the final stages of the movie, and Vaines, Juno, Sarah, and Rios are the known remaining survivors after the crawlers murder Dan and Cath. Sarah and Rios are a functioning duo, and Juno believes she knows how to escape the cave system, so Vaines follows Juno. But a brawl between Sarah and Juno breaks out, when both teams finally cross paths, because Juno is not too happy about the pickaxe, and Sarah abandoning her. And on the other side of the grudge, Sarah is not over Juno having an affair with Paul, and using the previous trip as a pity prize for her.

Cooler heads prevail after the brawl, but Vaines makes a crucial mistake, when has the bright idea to handcuff Sarah to himself.  But wait a minute! Vaines is bitter because Sarah left Juno behind the first time around. Eh, okay, if ANYONE has the right to hate Sarah, it’s Juno, not Sheriff Vaines, because she didn’t do anything to him. Anyway, the group agrees to follow Juno’s lead to escape the caves.

But Sarah and Vaines are stuck hanging on a ledge after they fall from too much weight on an unstable surface. Sarah pleads for Juno’s help, and Juno reluctantly agrees, as she instructs Rios to use a pickaxe to cut off Vaines’s arm (Juno made it clear it was impossible to save both, so they had to choose one), and Vaines falls into the abyss, as a group of crawlers devour what’s left of him. Meanwhile, Sarah, Juno, and Rios make a strong push towards Juno’s planned escape route.

The three remaining survivors reach the exit, but there’s a big problem: The feeding ground is packed with crawlers, and on top of that, an abnormally large crawler drags an animal’s carcass through the exit. Together, Rios, Sarah, and Juno take quiet and careful steps towards the end exit, but a horribly mutilated Greg makes one last desperate plea for help, and it’s enough to alert every crawler in the area.

Rios, Sarah, and Juno fight off and kill the group of crawlers, but as the battle progresses, Sarah notices Juno is struggling. Rios urges Sarah to make a run for it, but Sarah decides to help Juno. Juno and Sarah restrain and pummel the large crawler together, but the crawler rips Juno’s abdomen open. Juno falls to the ground, but she uses her last ounce of strength to bite a chunk of flesh out of the crawler’s neck, and together, Sarah and Juno kill the hulking crawler.

Juno is bleeding out, and as she dies in Sarah’s arms, she offers a heartfelt and teary apology to Sarah. Rios begs Sarah to escape with her, as a new group of crawlers surround them. Fearing the worst, Rios falls to her knees, but Sarah sacrifices herself, when she stands up and screams. Sarah’s screams draw the crawlers towards her, and as the crawlers swarm and overwhelm Sarah, Rios uses the opportunity to escape.

Rios runs into the nearby woods, and she takes a moment to catch her breath. Rios tries to make a phone call, but when she turns around, Ed smacks her in the face with a shovel. Ed drags Rios’ lifeless body towards the same entrance/exit she escaped from. The camera slowly descends into the black hole, and to end the movie, a crawler bursts through the opening before the credits start rolling.

Juno returns at the sixty-four minute mark (Part 2‘s overall runtime clocks in at 1hr. & 34 min.), but it’s still a genuine surprise, and the emotional farewell between Sarah and Juno is something to remember. Yes, Juno comes off as a pretentious phony, who’s more concerned with trying to stroke her own ego, while owning up to the affair and directly apologizing to Sarah takes a backseat. But after the events in The Descent Part 2, it’s hard to question Juno’s morality. She could’ve easily killed Sarah during the first brawl, and she could’ve let Sarah fall to her death with Vaines on the ledge with an “eye for an eye” revenge mindset, but she chose to save her.

After Juno’s deception and a scathing betrayal on Sarah’s end, two friends reunited and fought side by side, risking life and limb for each other. That’s excellent storytelling for Juno and Sarah‘s storyline, and if you stop and think about the events in both films, you can understand the motivations behind Sarah’s sacrifice. Think about it, here’s someone, who was in the same car, when her husband and young daughter suffered agonizing deaths in a brutal head on collision. Fast forward one year later, and all of her friends die horrific deaths at the hands of flesh-eating creatures, she gives Beth a mercy killing, and Sarah learns the truth about an affair between her husband and one of her best friends. And to pile on more misery, Sarah returns to the cave system to watch Juno, her only living friend in the world, die in her arms. Sarah blamed herself for what happened to Juno. She was overwhelmed with guilt and regret, and Sarah was way past the point of having nothing to lose.

The ending/cliffhanger? I have an indifferent reaction to it. I don’t hate the ending, but at the same time, the ending didn’t do anything for me. You get the feeling they were trying to recreate Sarah’s triumphant moment of relief and freedom, when she “escaped” the cave system in the first film with Rios’ crawling and running to freedom here, but the moment did not resonate with me for a few reasons.

Sarah truly SUFFERED, going to hell and back in the first film, so her escape had a resounding and meaningful impact, and if you pay close attention to the descent into the cave system during the early stages of the film, Ed gives Rios a knowing wink. Remember, Ed bragged about his “granddaddy” working in the mines. Ed was a local in the area, and he obviously knows everything there is to know about the crawlers, so he sat back and watched, as the creatures waited for a fresh group of meat. I’m not saying I have a crystal ball, because that means I already knew Rios would escape the cave, with Ed waiting in the wings to attack her from behind. That’s ridiculous, but the wink is an obvious clue that undermines the moment, and you had to know something was going to happen to Rios during her little scamper in the woods.

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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