DVD Review: 'The Descent: Part 2'


Dozens of production companies bankroll and release little horror movies every year. Once in a (rather great) while, one of those production companies chances on to a filmmaker like Neil Marshall, who in turn delivers something as special as The Descent -- hardly the "deepest" horror film ever made, but easily one of the most enjoyably intense, creepy, and exciting offerings of the last ten years. Horror fans across the globe devoured The Descent when it hit their market (mostly in DVD form), and many of them dug the flick enough to add it to their collection. So back to those guys in the production company's front office ... logically they want a sequel: The Descent: Part 2.

In many cases we'd get a rather mercenary approach to filmmaking: for a sequel they'll often slash the budget, dumb everything down, and toss a product into the marketplace while the title of the first flick is still fresh. And in most cases that sequel will suck raw eggs, because that's usually what happens when financial issues are the impetus for creating a movie. But still, every once in a while, things still manage to click into place. The upcoming [REC] 2 does it, the 1981 semi-favorite Halloween 2 pulled it off, Hostel Part 2 did it for me, and (yeah, I'll say it) Jeannot Szwarc's Jaws 2 managed to turn the trick as well: to give a receptive audience a Part 2 that doesn't ever eclipse its predecessor -- but does just enough right to keep the franchise flowing with some good will between the producers and the genre fans.

Much of what works in The Descent: Part 2 is yanked, more or less directly, from Neil Marshall's unquestionably superior flick, but it'd be unfair to say that first-time director Jon Harris (and his colorful crew of screenwriters) doesn't pull off a few fun tricks of his own. The concept, the characters, and the claustrophobia are all just enjoyably reheated leftovers from Part 1, and while it's true that Part 2 sometimes stumbles over its homages to Part 1, the simple truth is that there's just enough "newness" here to keep things interesting. Plus, let's all be honest, we don't really WANT our Part 2s to be all that different from our Part 1s. It's the familiarity that brings us back, sequel-lovers.

The Descent: Part 2 picks up, as many fun sequels do, immediately after the action from Part 1. Our lone survivor from the original "descent" is Sarah (Shauna McDonald), and she's compelled to re-enter the death caves by a collection of cops and rescue workers, all of whom are searching for the ill-fated ladies from, well, you know. Sarah's not all that much help, seeing as she cannot remember anything from the past several days, but (of course) once she gets subterranean and starts hearing those creepy sounds ... yeah, it all comes back to her. Monsters. "Crawlers." Big time. She bails on her escorts, the group splits up during the excitement, and then we're off to the body count department, which is followed by a few nifty (if illogical) surprises and a frantic race to the surface. It wasn't brain surgery in the first flick, and it sure as hell isn't here.

First-timer Jon Harris is better known as a very fine editor who has worked for the likes of Guy Ritchie (on Snatch), Matthew Vaughan (on almost all his films) and Neil Marshall himself (on, yep, The Descent), and I don't mind noting that -- aside from the strangely overlit caves and a few tunnels that look a bit cardboardy -- his sequel looks a whole lot like the original. (I mean that as a compliment.) One is not surprised to note that DP Sam McCurdy and production designer Simon Bowles have also returned for Part 2. So with most of the same "visual" team back on board, we look to the new guys: the writers.

What the sequel lacks in the dark subtext and elegance of the original, it tries to make up for in extra gore, extra action, and a strange predilection for bodily functions. (Seriously, there's a brief "cesspool" sequence that's simply terrible.) In truth, The Descent: Part 2 feels like someone took the original script and then asked first-timer James McCarthy, (Eden Lake writer / director) James Watkins, and (The Disappearance of Alice Creed writer / director) J Blakeson to simply add a few new kills, a few new characters, and a really bizarre epilogue that will amuse some and infuriate others. I get that nobody wanted to stray too far off the path, but in many places (particularly towards the end) The Descent: Part 2 feels less like a sequel and more like a frame-by-frame remake. And I don't entirely get the point of that.

All things considered, the flick holds up well enough as a matinee-style sequel that's both pleasing to the fans, appreciably well-made, and also slightly forgettable. Nowadays, however, I'll take a B-minus sequel to an A-grade horror flick. It's not like half-decent and dutifully entertaining sequels are all that prevalent these days.

Lionsgate's standard DVD does come with a very impressive widescreen (2.35:1) anamorphic transfer, with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Extras include a 25-minute mini-doco that covers the basics and includes interviews from all the principal cast and crew members; an audio commentary with director Jon Harris and three of his actresses (Shauna McDonald, Krysten Cummings, Anna Skellern); a few deleted scenes; some storyboards and trailers.

Bottom line: You can practically see the film trying to "color between the lines" laid down in the first film, but there's just enough freshness to keep Part 2 chugging along towards Part 3 -- which is clearly on the way.