I saw The Descent in theaters back in 2006, and I remember liking it quite a bit. I liked it because it did exactly what a horror movie is supposed to do. Horror seems to exist today as little more than a reverse action movie, where you cheer for the bad guy instead of the good guy, often because the so-called “victims” are really a bunch of assholes who deserve what’s coming to them (see: Roth, Eli). This wasn’t the case with The Descent. You actually felt sympathy for the characters, and you experienced the same fear and claustrophobia that they did. It was also one of the few films that legitimately made me jump. The moment when they first encounter one of the “crawlers” face-to-face came out of nowhere and totally caught me off guard. That’s not easy to do. Most horror films of today aren’t really designed to be scary, and when they do attempt to scare the audience, you can usually see the scare coming a mile away and it loses its effectiveness. With The Descent, of course I knew the crawler would show up eventually, but I didn’t know when. When it finally did show up, it did so at an unpredictable moment and it scared the shit out of me. Even my friend that I saw the film with jumped at that moment, and she’s a horror fanatic who is probably as desensitized to the “jump scare” as one can get. As far as horror films go, it was very well done.
I was quite surprised when I found out that a direct-to-DVD sequel had been released. (Technically it was released in theaters, but not on this side of the Atlantic.) I never thought for a moment that The Descent needed a sequel. It was fine on its own. But I decided to check it out. I was quite certain that it would not live up to the original. What surprised me was just how inferior it was. The ending especially tarnished it…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start, or so I’ve been told.
Part 2 starts right where part 1 left off. Our heroine, Sarah, played once again by Shauna MacDonald, escaped certain doom in the caverns and is found by a truck driver on a nearby highway. He’s nice enough to take her to the hospital, and then notifies the local Sheriff that she’s been found. The Sheriff, played by Gavan O’Herlihy, is quite excited by the news as he has been searching for Sarah and her five companions for quite some time. I guess someone filed a missing person’s report because the story of their disappearance is all over the news and the media are hounding him nonstop. He tells the hospital to keep it quiet so the press doesn’t freak out and he and his deputy, Rios (I assume that’s her last name but it’s never clarified), played by newcomer Krysten Cummings, go to the hospital to check her out. They’re hoping to get some answers from her as to what happened to her five friends, but they discover that she has amnesia and doesn’t remember any of the events in the first movie. Oh, how god-damned convenient! The really strange thing is her amnesia apparently goes back pretty far as she asks about her daughter, and Rios has the unfortunate task of informing her that she has been dead for some time. This is a really weak attempt at an emotional moment, and I have to call bullshit. Keep in mind I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I have to say this seems like one hell of a stretch. Even though it’s a cheap tactic to give us a reason for the sequel, I could tolerate two days worth of amnesia. But for her to forget the death of her daughter, she would have to forget an entire year! That’s a lot to swallow. Also, why does she only ask about her daughter and not her husband? Didn’t he die in the same car accident? True, he cheated on her, but if she forgot her daughter’s death, presumably she should have forgotten his infidelity as well and would be equally concerned about him. Or does she have some magical, selective amnesia? Who knows? They also do a test of the blood on her clothes and discover that it’s A+, the same blood type as her friend Juno (the one who slept with her husband if you don’t remember or didn’t see the first film). Wait, hang on a minute! I confess I only saw the first movie once and it was nearly four years ago, so I could be missing something here. But wasn’t she wading through a huge freaking pool of gore? How did they only find A+ blood on her? Did all of the blood she got on her clothes just happen to be A+? I’ve said this before in one of my Cinematic Excrement videos, and I’ll say it again here: Continuity is not a polite suggestion! One would think the director, Jon Harris, would have a better grasp of this since he was an editor for the first film. One would think.
In any case, the Sheriff is determined to launch a rescue mission for the other women. Despite Sarah’s deteriorated mental state and the complaints of Rios and Sarah’s doctor, he drags her along. They are also joined by three professional spelunkers whose names I had to look up on IMDB (they were that memorable): Dan, Greg, and Cath. They get virtually no character development and they don’t last long. They’re pretty much just crawler fodder. They decide to enter the caverns by way of an abandoned mine shaft, and they are led there by some local old guy. I don’t think they ever mentioned his name, so I will simply refer to him as the OG. He guides the crew to the mine entrance and tells a story about how his grandfather used to be a miner, and one day he entered the mine and never came back. DUN-DUN-DUUUUUUUUUUUH! Then they get on the elevator, which apparently still works (they don’t make ’em like they used to, I guess), and the OG activates it and lowers them down. We don’t see him again until the very end, but I’ll get to that later.
As they make their way through the mines toward the caves where Sarah and her friends were trapped, she has occasional flashbacks and slowly regains her memory. They soon come toward a narrow part of the cave that they have to crawl through to reach the other side. Geez, are they really going to recycle the cave-in from the first movie? The Sheriff currently considers Sarah a suspect in her friends’ disappearance–she was the only one who came out alive and did have quite a bit of blood on her, after all–so he orders her to crawl in first and he follows close behind. But as they crawl through, the flashbacks start hitting Sarah pretty hard and she suddenly freaks out, kicks the Sheriff in the face, and runs off. The rest of the crew makes it through the cave, but they briefly encounter a crawler. This results in a lot of screaming from everyone (including the crawler) and, sure enough, this causes a cave-in and they are now trapped. *sigh* Could they not have come up with something else? Even if they went with the predictable route of the elevator malfunctioning, it would have been better than a carbon copy of the event that trapped them in the first movie. At least it would’ve been slightly more original.
So the crawler runs off and now everyone is trapped in the caves. In fact, it’s the same room where the original cavers first encountered the crawler. They know this because they find one of their bodies which still has the video camera that captured the event, and Greg watches the scene that made me jump in the first film. As if on cue, the crawler shows up again just after they see it on film and everyone runs for the hills. From here on, the crew are split up into a few groups, and the rest of the film is people fighting with, hiding from, or fleeing the crawlers. I guess that’s what you’d expect from a sequel to The Descent.
Sarah comes out of hiding to stop Rios from screaming for help since it will lead the crawlers right to her, and they are teamed up for the rest of the film. Greg gets picked off right away, right in front of Sarah and Rios. As the crawler drags his corpse away, in footage that is quite clearly sped up for reasons unknown to me, Sarah sneaks up and grabs his backpack. Presumably she grabs the camera as well since she has it in a later scene, though we never actually see her pick it up. It’s doubtful that Greg would’ve put it in his pack since he was holding it while he was attacked. “Well, looks like I’m going to die. I guess I should pack up this camera so I don’t get blood all over it.” Somehow I doubt this is what went through his head as the crawler took a bite out of his jugular.
Cath and Dan run off on their own and encounter a corpse of another of Sarah’s friends. For some reason, this one looks considerably more decayed than the one they encountered earlier, even though they would’ve died within minutes of each other. What did I say about continuity? Anyway, as they try to cross a chasm they are ambushed by crawlers. Dan ends up getting wounded by a crawler and falls into the chasm. Cath makes it across and appears to be free and clear, but then she’s immediately attacked by another crawler and killed. This scene is surprisingly short on gore considering what we’ve seen so far. They don’t actually show the attack. You only see the shadows and some blood splatters. Maybe the effects budget didn’t allow them to do much more with this scene.
The Sheriff ends up on his own for a while, but eventually he encounters some help, and it’s not one of the people he entered the cave with. Believe it or not, Juno (once again played by Natalie Mendoza) is still alive, and with her trusty ice pick she saves the Sheriff from a pack of crawlers. I have to say that while it does seem a bit of a stretch that she survived the end of the first film, I’ll give credit where credit is due: They did a good job with her character here. She is clearly very disoriented and confused, acting almost crawler-like after being trapped with them for the last couple of days. She also has trouble adjusting to the brightness of the Sheriff’s flashlight after being in the dark for so long, and is limping considerably due to the leg injury Sarah gave her. Basically, she’s acting exactly like you’d expect if you saw the first film. It’s amazing what they can do when they actually want to pay attention to continuity.
Meanwhile, Sarah and Rios have been crawling through narrow passages and swimming through an underground river of sorts. At one point, we get a moment that kind of copies the pool of gore from the first movie, but with a twist: Instead of a pool of gore, it’s a pool of shit. I wish I was making that up. We don’t know right away what’s in the pool that they end up in. But after fighting off some crawlers, they hear another one coming and quiet down to avoid being noticed. Sure enough, the crawler appears on a ledge above them, and he hangs his ass over the edge and lets it fly. There are several complaints I have to make here. First of all, was it really necessary to have these two end up waist deep in a giant toilet? Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed pretty pointless and childish. Second, Rios goes through a rather abrupt character change here that I’m really not buying. At first she’s terrified and helpless up against a crawler and it’s up to Sarah to save her. But when another crawler attacks Sarah, she suddenly flips the bravery switch, leaping into action and killing it, and her timidness is gone for the rest of the film. She also kills it with a hairpin to the neck, which is just silly. And finally, after wading through all of this water and…other liquids, all of their electrical devices are still working fine. Their flashlights still work, though I suppose it’s plausible they could be somewhat water-resistant. Sarah has no problem operating the video camera in a later scene, and that camera definitely does not look waterproof. Rios is also able to use her Nokia N81 (product placement FTW!) to record a video for her daughter in case she doesn’t make it out alive. Have you ever accidentally dropped a cell phone in a swimming pool? I have, and it didn’t fucking work afterwords!
Eventually, the four survivors meet up. Naturally, once Juno spots Sarah, it’s on! Juno comes close to killing her, but backs off when Rios and the Sheriff talk her out of it and convince her that they’re all on the same side. Speaking of the Sheriff, he isn’t too happy with Sarah running off on him earlier, so he handcuffs himself to her to prevent her from running off again. This predictably backfires on him when they try to cross a narrow ledge overlooking another deep chasm and his dumb, uncoordinated ass slips and falls. With help from Rios and Juno, Sarah manages to hold him up, but they lack the strength to pull him up onto the ledge as he’s not exactly a small man. What’s worse, some crawlers are scaling the side of the chasm and coming right for them. So Juno and Sarah tell Rios that the only option is for her to take Juno’s ice pick and hack off his hand. With remarkably little hesitation and in one of the more brutal moments in the film, Rios obliges. After several good whacks, the Sheriff falls to the bottom of the chasm with the crawlers, minus one hand. (Insert Total Recall reference here.)
Remember how I said earlier that the ending really tarnished this movie? Well, it’s time for you to find out why. Rios, Sarah, and Juno reach the final room before the exit. Unfortunately, it’s also the feeding room for the crawlers and it just happens to be their lunch hour. They start sneaking their way toward the light, but as they get close, something suddenly reaches up and grabs Juno: It’s Dan! How the fuck is he still alive after that huge fall? I call bullshit! Juno screams, which leads to the crawlers halting their meal and attacking. They manage to fight them off, but Juno is mortally wounded in the fight. With her last words, she apologizes to Sarah. This was another good moment in the film and it was nice to see them make peace with each other. Unfortunately, the good moment immediately turns to stupidity as Sarah and Rios turn around and discover four crawlers have magically appeared in the room! Seriously? Four of them and they weren’t noticed? Do they have the ability to teleport now? Anyway, Sarah apparently decides she has nothing left to live for while Rios does since she has a family to go home to. So she attracts the attention of the crawlers, bravely sacrificing herself so Rios can escape. And here’s where it gets really stupid: Rios escapes the cave and runs for dear life, but stops when she realizes she’s in the middle of the woods and has no idea where she is. So she pulls out her phone to call for help (still works, that N81 is a tank!), but as she’s trying to make a call she turns around and spots the OG! Remember him? Well, for reasons that are NEVER EXPLAINED, he whacks her in the face with a shovel, knocking her unconscious. Confused? Just wait, it gets even better. He then drags her back to the cave, drops her at the entrance, and walks off. The last thing we see is Rios slowly coming to as the camera zooms into the cave, and then we get one last shot of a crawler leaping toward the camera. Roll credits. I’d really like to know how they could have thought this ending would work. Why the hell does the OG attack her? Why does he throw her back to the crawlers? Is he trying to cover up their existence? Trying to protect them? Why? For what reason? For what purpose? For what gain? We don’t know, because the movie never tell us! We have no background on this character whatsoever. This guy did absolutely nothing in the movie prior to this except press the fucking “on” button on the elevator! There’s no reason, no motive, no explanation, nothing! This doesn’t make any fucking sense! What were they thinking!?
When I started writing this review, my initial mindset was that the movie was so-so, but the ending ruined what could have otherwise been a (barely) passable horror flick. But after actually sitting down and typing this, and thinking back to everything I had just seen in those 90 minutes, my opinion of the movie continued to go south. Now that I’ve hit the conclusion, I really can’t call it passable anymore. It just does far too many things wrong, even if you ignore the ending. Maybe I’d have a different opinion if I hadn’t seen the first movie and couldn’t point out all of the continuity errors and all of the things the first film did better, but therein lies the problem: It’s The Descent, part 2. It was designed to be a continuation of the first movie, and therefore I have to take it into account. I can’t not. With that in mind, there’s only one conclusion I can come to: This movie should not have been made. I said in the beginning that The Descent didn’t need a sequel, and after viewing part 2 I stand by what I said. It had too little character development, it made too many mistakes, the chilling atmosphere that made the first film great is all but gone, and the ending does nothing but leave a foul taste in your mouth. I don’t know if I should go so far as to say that Jon Harris needs to stick to what he knows how to do and go back to editing. It is, after all, his first time at the helm, and he could potentially get better over time. But this was not a good start for his directorial career.
In short, pass on this one, especially if you are a fan of The Descent. It doesn’t even come close to doing it justice.