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Thursday, August 24, 2023

‘The Descent Part 2’ – Diving into the Sequel 14 Years Later

Back then, no one was expecting The Descent to go on and become one of the most widely acclaimed horror films of the decade. Even today, Neil Marshall’s second creature-feature (the first being Dog Soldiers) remains a favorite among audiences and critics everywhere. This iconic film defies those expectations based on its cast and pitch — not a man in sight as six women battle a clan of cave-dwelling monsters — and then delivers a thoughtful study of friendships, grief, and survival. 

So when a sequel was announced, fans’ curiosity and anticipation turned into nervousness once it was revealed that Marshall was neither directing nor writing the follow-up. Instead, the first film’s editor, Jon Harris, was promoted to director, and the script was handled by James McCarthy, J Blakeson, and James Watkins. Other details about The Descent Part 2 were scant prior to its 2009 release, but after it was finally seen, the response was mixed. Since then, those harsher critics have hardly budged on their opinions. If anything, a lot of them simply forget — or try to forget — the sequel even exists.

The thought of more brawling with Crawlers sounds like a good idea on paper, but something was lost in the execution. Marshall was opposed to another film from the start, and he was adamant about not directing it. With or without him, though, The Descent Part 2 was going to happen. Marshall, who signed on as an executive producer and a second-unit director, stipulated the sequel had to be a continuation of Sarah’s story. Last seen, Shauna Macdonald’s character had survived her ordeal, more or less. Everyone knows by now that the U.S. theatrical release chopped off the original ending shown in the U.K.; it was deemed too unhappy in an already bleak as hell film. In either cut, Sarah was technically still alive.

Pictured: Josh Dallas as Greg in The Descent Part 2

Acting as an extension of the first film, the sequel picks up where the U.S. cut left off. It is arguable that Part 2 can pair with both edits, but considering Sarah’s state of mind in the proper version, it is doubtful Sarah would have found a way out on her own. Even the truncated ending is hardly happier, and the sequel acknowledges why. After a random passerby named Ed (Michael J. Reynolds) finds Sarah on the road, the police begin a search for the other missing five women. Naturally, they suspect Sarah is behind Juno (Natalie Mendoza) and the others’ disappearances, and without any clear memory of the incident, Sarah cannot outright deny the accusation.

Getting Sarah back to the cave system requires questionable logic, even for a horror film. Apparently the police in these parts operate on the bizarrely improper protocol where traumatized people, suspects or otherwise, do not require any substantial psychological aid and supervision. No, Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) skips all that and immediately shoves Sarah back into the place where she just escaped, forcing her to be their guide for a rather hasty and ill-conceived rescue mission. Surely a psychologist would have protested or flat out disallowed such a decision. Nevertheless, Sarah, the idiotic sheriff, Deputy Elen Rios (Krysten Cummings), and three random cave specialists (Josh Dallas, Douglas Hodge, Anna Skellern) enter what will soon be their tomb.

Along with the audience, the first film threw Sarah and the others into a bad situation without much warning. The characters becoming lost and trapped because of poor judgment is par for the course in these kinds of stories, yet then having monsters show up was unexpected. Knowing there was no element of surprise this time around, director Jon Harris did not want to repeat the first film’s choice of having everyone discover the Crawlers’ existence all at once. So in true horror fashion, the sequel’s cast splits up once inside the cave system. Dallas, Hodge, and Skellern’s thinly written characters are here to increase the potential body count, so it is only a matter of time until they bite the big one. Their presence has no bearing on Sarah’s story, so at the very least they can provide satisfying death sequences. And that they do as various Crawlers rip them apart before getting to the main course.

The Descent Part 2 juno

Pictured: Natalie Mendoza as Juno in The Descent Part 2

Marshall’s chiaroscuro aesthetic in the first film is unmatched. Even more so when watching the sequel where subterranean scenes are bathed in light. Both Descent films used sets for the cave scenes, however, only the sequel makes that fact obvious. The excessive lighting leaves nothing to the imagination, and the characters’ surroundings appear artificial, hollow, and unconvincing. Perhaps worst of all is the Crawlers, whose facial redesign gives them the semblance of goofy orcs. Seeing far too much of the creatures now robs them of the power they once wielded in near total darkness.

The original Descent is a progenitor of today’s trend of metaphorical horror films, although Marshall’s conveyance of heavy thematic material is unprecedented. So much so that many viewers miss the bereavement metaphor altogether. Of course, that is why The Descent is held up as a masterpiece; it can function well with or without the subtext. On one hand it is a woman-versus-monster mash, and on the other it is a considerable exploration of life after trauma and loss, and the difficulty of making it out of a dark and hopeless place. The film’s duality as a piece of exemplary, B-movie entertainment and a touchstone of “metaphorror” is unrivaled.

While the first film saw Sarah descending into hell, its sequel is all about Sarah’s “redemptive ascent,” according to producer Christian Colson. The aim here was to give Sarah closure after certain revelations and decisions were made last time, including, most importantly, Sarah leaving Juno to die. Mendoza’s character has been harshly judged over the years, although plenty have also come around to her side. Yes, Juno was having a secret affair with Sarah’s husband, and Juno did kill Beth (Alex Reid). The latter was, however, an accident. Juno lying about Beth’s death did not help her case, but regardless of what went down in a moment of undue stress, she was still on Sarah’s side up until the very end.

The Descent Part 2 horror

Pictured: A Crawler from The Descent Part 2

If the sequel does anything of note, it is Sarah and Juno’s reconciliation. It indeed comes across as syrupy, convenient, and too tidy, but there is a sense of satisfaction about seeing two at-odds friends come through for one another in their hour of need. In the first film, Sarah could not put her personal feelings aside, at least until they all left the cave, and ultimately her grief and emotions got the best of her. She was unable to compartmentalize her feelings like Juno. It also never dawned on Sarah that Juno was mourning someone she loved as well. Messy and deceitful as the affair was, Juno clearly meant a lot to Sarah’s husband. Hence Sarah returning the token of that love — the necklace — to Juno.

Neil Marshall has called the sequel “totally unnecessary,” but he also said of The Descent Part 2, “I think it doesn’t take away from the first movie.” Both statements are valid, and one’s enjoyment of the first film cannot be undone by this more crudely written and shot follow-up, no matter how hard it tries. If nothing else, the sequel has senseless Crawler action in spades, and there is an attempt at a happier ending for those who found the original film’s conclusion too gloomy. The strange, last-second twist would have suggested another sequel was in the cards. Wisely, one never came to fruition. One mediocre and needless sequel is forgivable, yet a series of them is not.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

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Pictured: Shauna Macdonald as Sarah in The Descent Part 2

The post ‘The Descent Part 2’ – Diving into the Sequel 14 Years Later appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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