The Descent: Part 2 Review
Crafting a horror sequel is a tricky number; the original movie has already exploited the key shocks and surprises, making any construction of tension difficult. Run any build-up of tension for too long, and you’ll alienate the viewers who have returned for gratuitous gore; make it too brief, and you’ll rapidly lose the cynical segment of the audience who are, albeit unrealistically, expecting a follow-up that shares the integrity of the original. Add this to the fact that The Descent : Part 2 sequels a genuinely chilling, nerve-shredding, and agonisingly claustrophobic original, and you have a very tall order on your hands.
Had the follow-up to Neil Marshall’s fantastic British horror film been “franchised” off to a new group, it may well have been doomed to the same fate of countless other lame horror sequels, but thanks to the fact that it’s been kept “in the family”, albeit with a few role adjustments including the promotion of Film Editor Jon Harris to Director (with original Director Neil Marshall moving up to Executive Producer), a sense of continuity is maintained, and the result, whilst inevitably lacking the impact of the original, is still one of considerable quality.
The plot is fairly straightforward, maturing only so far as to fulfil its purpose of plunging our rainbow of unwitting characters back into the hell hole of cramped and infested underground caves. One of the characters descending back into the murky gloom is Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), revisiting the terror that she experienced in the original. Her performance is suitably intense, particularly as the rickety lift lowers the crew into the darkness, but some of the others are less assured, and whilst the quality is good overall, there are moments where the arguments and outbursts feel slightly disconnected. Another minor complaint is that it seems wholly unrealistic that Sarah would be dragged from her hospital bed by rotund policeman Vaines (Gavan O'Herlihy) to go back underground, but hey, this is a sequel, and one must expect at least some plot conveniences in order to drive the horror forward.
Since we lose a hefty chunk of originality and shock value in sequels of this ilk, the gap is usually smothered by cranking the goreometer up to notch 11, and The Descent: Part 2 is no exception. What’s particularly pleasing is that, to match the deft cinematography, the gory, eye-popping blood-splatter is executed with impressive vigour, and it’s all played out against a beautifully captured backdrop, covering a vast scope from lush, wide, green forests, to gloomy, dank, yet often stunning views of caves.
For all of the bloody and visceral visuals, there’s only a light touch on any thematic elements, and this can make proceedings feel a little shallow. Perhaps the strongest of these is the portrayal of atonement, which provides a brief respite from the onslaught of terror. Yet The Descent: Part 2 is all about the horror, and performs its duty with suitable energy and verve. Details aside, it’s pretty much a template copy of the original, and with the major shocks having already been revealed, it doesn’t quite match the pant-wetting horror and unbearable claustrophobia of its forebear, but compared to most of its rivals - sequels or otherwise - this effective British horror flick is an enjoyable, high quality bloodfest.
The Descent: Part 2 is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, is region 2 encoded, and runs at 94 minutes. The transfer of this well shot film is excellent; whether it’s the rich greens of the sprawling forest views during the opening sequences, the solid blacks that provide such terrifying contrast in the confined caves, or the crimson blood that pumps lavishly from human and crawler alike, all colours are rich, deep, and convincing. There is no perceptible distortion, right to the edge of the picture, and movements are captured in clear, smooth fashion.
The DVD is, according to my press release, available in either single or double disc format. Having looked into it, I believe that the double disc edition presents this release and the first film in one pack. If you haven’t seen the original, then I highly recommend that you buy the double disc version and watch the original first. Watching the sequel before the original will both make the sequel more difficult to interpret, and, worse still, lessen the impact of the superior original. Don’t even think it.
The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and the sounds are clear and crisp, with dialogue being suitably well balanced. There is good representation of sound placement, and the unsettling background rumblings of the filthy creatures really drives the assault on the nerves. David Julyan’s soundtrack is cleanly reproduced.
This release contains some useful extras. The most interesting is the obligatory “Making of...” featurette, a 25 minute glance at some of the work behind the scenes. The piece is a general Descent family love-in, with cast and crew beaming away, waxing lyrical about how much they’ve enjoyed working with each other.
The piece is split into four sections, and there is an insightful look at how some of the effects were achieved. Particularly interesting is the way that some of the set was manipulated for visual impact, such as the caged lift, which proves to be a static chamber with a rolling cave backdrop – the lift itself goes nowhere!
There is ample opportunity to find out more about the movie with commentary by Jon Harris, Shauna Macdonald, Krysten Cummings (who plays Rios), and Anna Skellern (Cath). Additionally, there are some deleted scenes (which you can choose to have commentary on with Jon Harris - and some of the deleted scenes are above the standard fare), storyboard galleries, a production design gallery, and the standard theatrical trailer. It’s a fairly decent set of extras.
Presented with a smattering of interesting extras, this follow-up to the highly regarded original opts for safety, using the winning formula of its predecessor and an extended quotient of good ole’ blood n’ guts. This approach pays dividends, as The Descent: Part 2 is an enjoyable foray back into the realm of claustrophobic cave hell. It doesn’t quite match the impact of the original shocker, and the finale may be greeted with bemusement by many, but with a great transfer of this beautifully shot sequel, there is still much to provide recommendation.