Disclaimer: My reviews of media here do not mean that I lay any claim to the media in question. All reviews are entirely subjective. I may talk about how well the movie objectively works in my opinion, but it essentially all comes down to what I think of the movie. My liking a movie is not the same as thinking it's a great movie. If I trash a movie that you love, or love a movie you can’t stand, it’s not because I hate you. Also, all reviews are likely to contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movies in question and don’t want to know what happens, then you probably shouldn’t be reading about them here. Finally, a blanket trigger warning for people who don't want to read about common horror movie content such as sexism, racism, violence, etc.: I will likely discuss all of the above when they show up in the films I review, so please tread with caution. Check out this post for more on how my reviews are set up.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horror Movie Reviews: The Descent Part 2 (2009)

Overall: C
Acting: B
Writing: C
Story: C
Technical aspects: B
Effects: B-

Directed by:
Jon Harris

Shauna Macdonald
Gavan O’Herlihy
Natalie Jackson Mendoza
Krysten Cummings

Particular trigger warnings: none I recall
Passes the Bechdel test? Yes.

This movie felt pretty “meh” to me. In all honesty, I was pretty bored through most of it.

            The Descent Part 2 is a sequel to the 2005 film The Descent. HEAVY SPOILERS FOR THE DESCENT FOLLOW: The basic plot of the first film is that six friends (all female) go on a caving trip together in the Appalachian mountains. There’s a cave-in, trapping them in the unexplored cave system where there’s no hope of rescue. Turns out that the cave system is occupied by a humanoid species referred to as “crawlers” who violently kill the girls one by one. Finally, two girls remain, Juno and Sarah. Some drama has happened, with Juno being responsible for one of the other girls’ deaths, plus being the one at fault for tricking them into going to an unexplored cave system, and it’s also been revealed that Juno had an affair with Sarah’s late husband, so Sarah attacks and wounds her and leaves. It’s implied that Juno dies off-camera, with an abruptly silenced scream, and we see Sarah escape. But then her escape is revealed to have been a hallucination, and the movie ends with her sitting oblivious below ground and the crawlers getting closer. I actually liked the first movie pretty well, and it's been on my re-watch list for some time.

            The sequel picks up with it being revealed that actually Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) has somehow made it out, and she stumbles into the road and is picked up by a motorist who takes her to a hospital. Sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) has the blood on her clothing tested. Upon finding that some of it belonged to Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) he insists that Sarah take them back through the caves to find the other girls.
            The sheriff puts together a team consisting of himself, his deputy Elen Rios (Krysten Cummings), and three (pretty non-descript) “specialists” – Dan (Douglas Hodge), Greg (Joshua Dallas), and Cath (Anna Skellern). They go through a newly discovered entrance to the cave system through a mineshaft operated by a man named Ed Oswald (Michael J. Reynolds).
            Once down in the caves, Sarah has a flashback and strikes out at the others before fleeing. Sheriff Vaines chases after her, but encounters a crawler, which he fires at, and he causes a cave-in. Cath is separated from the rest. The three still together – Elen, Dan, and Greg – find a video camera from one of the girls in the first movie, and they see that the girls really were attacked by the crawler creatures. Then they themselves are attacked by crawlers, and are separated.
            Sarah and Elen meet up, and witness a crawler killing Dan. Cath and Greg reunite elsewhere and keep going, but are both eventually offed. Vaines is still going deeper into the caves, and he is almost killed before he is rescued by Juno, who somehow has survived, and in the few days since the previous movie has become particularly skilled in killing the crawlers. The four survivors meet up, and while Juno and Sarah start fighting, then they decide that maybe they should save it for later and just try to escape now. Juno says she can lead them to the exit, and Vaines handcuffs himself to Sarah so she can’t abandon them like he claims she did Juno. On their journey, he falls over a cliff, and Elen cuts off his hand letting him fall and die in order to save Sarah.
            Finally, the three remaining women are within reach of the exit, but as they try to sneak past a group of crawlers, Greg is revealed to be barely alive and he grabs Juno. She screams, he dies, the crawlers attack. Juno ends up wounded, and dies in Sarah’s arms. Elen and Sarah are horribly outnumbered, but Sarah sacrifices herself so Elen can escape.
            Elen gets out, but then Ed, the man who was operating the mineshaft elevator, attacks her and drags her back to be food for the crawlers. The movie ends with a crawler leaping at her.

            It’s hard to really pick out what exactly was BAD about this movie, except that I found it boring and it didn’t really hold my interest at all. I had to keep forcing myself to stay awake. The acting is all right, but the story was just dull. The three “specialist” characters felt unnecessary, and like they were only there for padding the length of the movie with their respective death scenes. I don’t have any lasting impression of their characters or any development they got, and can’t really think of anything that made them necessary to the story. I guess it’s better that this is called “part 2” rather than being billed as a real sequel. It seems to be trying to repeat the success of the first film by doing the same things, but that really is just more repetitive than anything else; predictable death scenes spaced out by boring stretches of travel devoid of tension because we’ve already been here and done this.
I also had a hard time getting past how clumsily it fits with the original. Both Juno and Sarah die in the end of the first movie, and it’s never explained how either of them actually escaped and survived. Despite the fact that Sarah was shown to be hallucinating images of her dead daughter, too far into the cave to possibly get out, while she was being surrounded by crawlers, she still managed to escape? Somehow, despite being horribly wounded and constantly hunted by creatures that hunt partially by scenting blood, Juno has survived for days and in that short time has become an expert at hunting and killing the crawlers? And she knows where the exit is, but hasn’t tried to get out herself? This didn’t feel well explained at all. (I realize that there were apparently alternate endings to the first film, and my review is based on the ending that I saw, which was the standard version on the DVD I watched.)
            The cinematography is good, and it feels dark and closed in like being in the caves. The effects weren’t bad, but the creature design of the crawlers was changed from the first movie. The change wasn’t good, in my opinion. The first movie had them looking like creepy, pale, slimy, eyeless things that had evolved underground… exactly what they were supposed to be. For the sequel, according to the designer, “Jon [the director] wanted them more viciously feral, inbred, scarred and deformed, with rows of sharklike teeth for ripping flesh.” The result to me looks… gargoyle-like. Less like a real species that could exist (and is therefore creepy or scary,) and more like a Halloween monster mask (which is not so creepy.) Their faces are wrinkled with broad noses and pointed ears. They have eyes and can clearly see. The wikipedia article on the first movie has a good comparison of the two designs, which I’ll copy-paste here: 

            I would definitely recommend the first film (which wasn’t perfect, but probably would get a B+ from me) more than the second. If you really like the first one, and find yourself desperately wanting more, the second may provide that. But in my opinion it does so clumsily, and doesn’t add anything new to an interesting scenario.


  1. This doesn't look like a movie I'd watch anyway, but your review of it has saved me the pain of ever watching it. If I ever feel the need to watch it, I'll come back and read your review instead, which is far more entertaining than it sounds like the movie would be.

    Also, I understand why you're adding "Pass the Bechdel test," but I have to say that that's never an important thing for me. Then again, I'm not a screaming "feminist" (read fem-nazi) who might get hysterical if a movie didn't. :D

  2. The first one was pretty good, but this one was just boring. I'm not sure you'd care much for the first one either, but I don't really know what types of horror you prefer. Glad the review was at least somewhat entertaining, though.

    It matters to me, and I'm not a feminazi. :P I actually LIKE having female characters that aren't man-obsessed and aren't "token chicks." But I'm certainly not "hysterical" when a movie doesn't pass it. Many of my favorite movies don't.