Neil Marshall’s 2005 horror smashed onto the screens in a very welcome splash of fresh gore, suspense and eye-ball squishing violence. It came into a market saturated by play-it-safe Westernised Japanese horror movies. Unfortunately it also came out almost to the week that some crazy bastards decided to bomb London. With horro a little too close to home, it may not have helped it very much on the big screen, although seeing it at my local cinema was incredible.
Sadly, I didn’t get to see the sequel in similar style during its blink-and-miss-it big screen release last year. It seemed to have been about to arrive for ages. Then it went altogther. But, thanks to the PS3’s HD download we were able to quickly get it in over the weekend, and pass judgement on a rather surprising second visit underground.
Given how the first one ended, a sequel was the last thing I was expecting.
The first Descent film ended with everyone dead, killed by horrible underground sub-humans, nicknamed ‘Crawlers’. Only the traumatised Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) is left alive, and she’s lost her mind, staring into the flames of a torch that burns away on the ledge, where it looks like she’s trapped until the monsters get to her. She did have a hallucination about escaping shortly before this fate was revealed. In it, she climbed up a huge pile of bones to get back to the surface, and even got to their 4X4 and drove off, before a zombified Juno (Natlie Mendoza) reappeared to shock her back to her doom.
The reason the sequel exists, then, is thanks to the American cut of the film, which substitutes a true descent into madness for the final ‘boo’ ending. It stops where Sarah escapes. Hence, more monsters. However, the sequel doesn’t quite match this set-up.
The sequel opens with a car driving along, stopped by a nonchalant deer standing in the road. The driver and the audience are then made to JUMP when Sarah, bloodied, shriekingly insane, bangs on the window. Later she says she was washed out to freedom by the underground river. But later still, the way out appears to be back in the boneyard from the first film, as we originally saw, so I’m still confused!
Sarah is catatonic and remembers nothing about the last two days. Her reappearence prompts a team of rescuers, and a tough police chief, to go back into the cave system to find the rest of the group. In the first film Juno had deliberately booked a fake ‘flight plan’ meant to tell potential rescuers where they were, but with Sarah’s reappearence they use a sniffer dog which somehow finds a new entrance into the correct set of caves. Apparently this is under a creepy old hut, which leads to an old mine shaft. So…remind me again how Sarah got out? The rescue team take Sarah with them to help navigate the unmapped tunnels, and in true Aliens style, the Crawlers are soon all over over them.
Except, unlike Ripley in Aliens, Sarah is too catatonic for the bulk of the film to really tell them anything useful until it’s far too late. And, ok, everyone ignored Ripley until it was too late, but here Sarah goes from catatonic, gibbering wreck to superwoman in the time it takes for her to get them all killed. Our sympathies are starting to dry up. The attention is really on the police woman, Elen Rios (Krysten Cummings), who is anxious to get back to her daughter – giving Sarah some reason to bother protecting Rios from the monsters.
The Crawlers’ appearence seems to have changed, too. Their faces are more batlike and sort of humanoid, instead of the white shrieking faces of pure horror from before. This may be due to the extra light in the caves which leeches much of the terror from events and creatures. The best scare is really when they first re-enter the caves and in the dark Sarah sees a piece of limestone that looks just like a Crawler – and then it turns its head! But overall, they don’t recapture the first film’s terrifying, dark and firelit atmosphere. The script is also less naturalistic, replacing the women’s banter with more businesslike ‘this is how you survive in a goddamn cave’ kind of chatter.
I did appreciate one of the rescuers getting stuck in a tiny part of the tunnel after a big cave in, which definitely got the point, but then the rest of the caves suddenly appeared to have really high ceiling!
Mostly, the sense of urgency and threat isn’t as well paced as in the first one. Once underground and under dire threat, the characters basically seemed to wander around, without making any concerted effort to get out. There IS a lot of monster-mashing, though, which kind of makes up for it. It was good to see Juno again, too! She and Sarah actually make up, and in the first film I’d wanted them to put the whole ‘you had an affair with my husband bitch’ hatred aside and actually escape togetherproperly . They attempt that this time, although the moment has passed – Sarah left Juno to die after stabbing her, for crying out loud! Juno gets over it, and really is superwoman, until a massive Crawler finishes her off in yet another big fight scene.
I’m glad that the made the sequel – you can never have too many movies about blind batlike underground monsters being bloodily hacked apart – but ultimately I think I was happiest with the original’s stark treatment of survival, grief, jealousy and madness. This is a far shallower horror, and the mixed sex cast make it a more run-of-the-mill popcorn flick. Again, the brighter lighting misses much of the point. The dark underground tunnels are scary enough on their own, no matter what else might be lurking in them! While there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy, the pacing is definitely off, and you will probably be left going ‘WTF?’ at the very end. It seems that the Crawlers have received some top-side help in getting a taste for human flesh. How and why immediately leaps to mind!
Unlike the first film, then, this really DOES beg for a followup.
There’s nowhere left to go but down…
For old time’s sake….