Descent: Part 2 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe takes an ill-advised header back into a cave full of pissed-off crawlers...
Days after the events of The Descent, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), the sole survivor, appears on the roads near the ‘crawler’ infested cave. Deep in shock, and physically fragile, Sarah awakens in the hospital with no memory of the last few days. When mysterious blood is found on Sarah’s clothes overzealous police Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O'Herlihy) insists she accompany his search team back into the cave. Unable to warn the police or rescue cave divers of the danger, the crawler slaughter begins.
I’m immediately dubious of a sequel to Neil Marshal’s superior thriller The Descent, and I’m more than dubious of a direct, next day follow-up. The original film ends on a delightfully, ambiguously bleak note (assuming you’re watching the original cut), and the idea of freeing Sarah from her mental and physical hell holes sort of cheapens the effectiveness of the original story. It’s also a pretty belated production for a film that’s meant to take place a day after the original. Not that Shauna Macdonald has aged particularly hard, but the concept is still so… dubious. Of course, even a bad sequel doesn’t change the original film unless you’re willing to let it.
The original Descent was fairly compared to Alien, in mostly positive terms, so it makes sense that Descent Part 2 would uses Aliens as part of its narrative basis. The first acts of the two films are strikingly similar, though James Cameron’s script has science fiction on its side. The plot thrust of Descent Part 2 doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sarah starts the story in a state of shock, which is both convenient and inconvenient for this story. It’s convenient that she doesn’t remember (or at least doesn’t express) that her friends are dead, because it forces the authorities to hastily look for them, but why the hell would anyone drag a post-traumatic stressed victim back to the home of her shock inducing ordeal? I suppose convenience comes back into the equation when Sarah becomes a solid suspect in her friends’ murders, but a forced prisoner angle is really just as silly when her mental state is taken into account. This is also one of the most ill-equipped search parties I’ve ever seen outside of a C-list, shot on video monster movie. Cameron’s Space Marines may have lost their battle, but at least they had some big damn guns on their hips. The characters here are practically wearing targets, and in terms of depth are pretty shallow, especially compared to the original, which took a very long time to introduce the protagonists, and something like an hour to introduce the monster threat.
Descent Part 2 is better than most unneeded franchise sequels, and does work well as a bottom barrel, B-movie experience for its excessive gore alone. I have no idea how the filmmakers managed an R-rating, based on the sheer quantity of flowing red stuff. But the real scariness of the original Descent came out of the physical and emotional claustrophobia. The crawlers were really just a cherry on top. I reviewed the first movie a few years back, and initially was not a fan of the tonal shift that occurred when the monsters appeared. In the years since the mix has really grown on me, especially in subsequent viewings. This film is simply not very frightening, and recycles a lot of the first film’s best gags, but it’s amusing in its bloody excesses, and goofy scare tactics. Assuming fans are willing to let the original film’s best elements go, along with their natural sense of disbelief, there is some fun to be had. The handicam re-enactments of scenes from the first film are quite successful, successful enough to make a rather childish part of me want a feature-length Cannibal Holocaust version of the first film. On second thought it’d be lame from a storytelling standpoint, and films like REC have basically done it well already. Forget I said anything.
I’ve been sure to mention in other recent standard definition DVD reviews that my eyes have somewhat regretfully adjusted to HD, so all DVDs look a little iffy lately. I’m pretty sure, however, that even without these ‘new’ eyes this particular 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer would be lacking. The bulk of the film, which takes place in the blackness of the caves, looks decent, including deep, solid blacks, and discernable highlights. Jon Harris’ pallets aren’t as stylistic Neil Marshals, so the in-cave sequences are pretty natural in terms of colours. Reds are a bit of a problem, especially redder skin tones, which feature greenish noise, and uneven tones, but the blues and yellows look just fine. The big, obvious problems are in the outdoor, daylight shots, which feature flat, lumpy details, and heavy edge-enhancement. The wide helicopter shots look terrible, and are awash with compression noise. The compression problems aren’t as big a deal during the cave scenes, but edge-enhancement still becomes a problem during more deep set shots, and details are never particularly impressive, even in massive close-up.
This Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is compressed enough to require some decent volume adjustments, but is mostly immersive and effectively shocking when required. Successful surround sound elements include eerily shifting rocks, and softly scurrying creatures, along with the more bombastic rumbles of cave-ins, and threatening would-be cave-ins. The immersive quality is impressive when it’s a part of the mix, but the really expressive sequences aren’t super common. The creature sounds are perfectly monstrous, and the inquisitive Predator-like softer sounds do well to introduce the treat in the surround and stereo channels. Most of the noise, of course, comes from the centre channel, though it often echoes effectively throughout the other channels. The LFE warbles a bit, but is a pretty consistent source of noise, especially monster growls, cave-ins and the score’s bouncy percussive elements.
The extras begin with a commentary track featuring director Jon Harris, and actresses Shauna MacDonald, Krysten Cummings and Anna Skellern. The commentators warn us immediately that they’ve had a long night at the premier the night before recording, and that they’re too tired to really commentate. The warning is all too accurate a foreshadowing of the track’s disengaged feel. This is a track with four sleepy people, who occasionally recall an interesting behind the scenes story, most of which concern deleted scenes, it seems. The more banal discussing concerns the sets, which everyone is very impressed with. I have to admit I gave up before I got to the end, so there is a chance the last half hour or so is a riot. Coolest factoid in the whole bunch: Neil Marshal directed the camcorder re-enactments.
Next up are a collection of non-anamorphic deleted/extended scenes (11:20), including almost exclusively first act stuff, like a different credit sequence, a different introduction to the rescue team, more stuff with cops outside the hole, and more hospital scenes. There are some extra bits in the cave, mostly unneeded, even if the characters were underdeveloped in the final film. I’m struggling to understand the differences between the first and last deleted scenes. ‘The Making Of Descent 2: Deeper, Darker’ (25:50) is your standard EPK featurette, including interviews with the cast and crew, rough behind the scenes footage, and clips from the finished film. Informative enough, including discussion of development, casting, production design, and gore effects, but pretty fluffy in tone. Things wrap-up with a storyboard gallery (07:40) and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Something happens a the top of the third act that will probably totally divide the audience on the whole of Decent Part 2. In my case it actually kind of saved the film in sense of narrative, but was too little too late in terms of overall success, but I’m guessing some folks will think it’s a total cheat. There is a lot of fun violence to keep things moving though, so it’s nearly impossible for real gore-hounds to totally dismiss the film. Definitely worth a rent for fans of the first willing to keep their expectations in check, and those up for a genuinely funny poop joke. There’s a third film in the works, and I’m hoping it’s a court room drama. The DVD doesn’t look too great, and the extras are a bit lazy, but the Dolby Digital sound is certainly solid.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 27th April 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Extras: Director and Actor Commentary, Making of The Descent: Part 2: Deeper and Darker, Storyboard Gallery, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jon Harris
Cast: Michael J. Reynolds, Shauna Macdonald, Jessika Williams, Douglas Hodge, Joshua Dallas
Length: 94 minutes