Monday, June 7, 2010

Part Deux

In August, 2006, six chicks with picks descended into a cave system somewhere in the Appalachian mountains in the eastern United States. There, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), Sarah (Shauna MacDonald), Beth (Alex Reid), Sam (MyAnna Buring), Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), and Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) disappeared into caves deep within the mountains. There, they were tormented and confronted both by carnivorous human-like Crawlers deep beneath the surface and their own inherent distrust of the others. It was a great horror film, helmed by Neil Marshall, and despite good horror movies rarely being successful, The Decent raked in $8.9 million opening weekend en route to a $57 million worldwide gross. Sure, it's not Titanic, or even close, but with the exception of big Hollywood horror series like Friday the 13'th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween or Saw, a small, indie, foreign horror film would be lucky to make a third of what The Descent made.

A sequel was never needed, but with the Descent's success, it was inevitable. And so in The Descent, Part 2 we once again meet Sarah (played once again by an excellent MacDonald), who has somehow found her way kicking and screaming from the depths of the mountains where after two days a search and rescue effort has been sent since she and her fellow spelunkers have not checked their equipment back in (It's not explained whether the US edited ending was used for the sequel, or the "true" original ending is canon). After Sarah is found, and seems to be suffering from amnesia, an effort is made to find the missing women, with Sarah brought along since she's the only one who's been to these caves. Why does Sarah have amnesia? Why, how else would she go BACK into the caves, then?

Right away, it's obvious we're on familiar ground. Neil Marshall may not have directed this sequel, but Jon Harris (in his directorial debut, but with tons of editing work on films like The Descent, Layer Cake and Snatch) knows how to use darkness as his medium once everyone's underground. It's always a strain to see ANYTHING in the darkness around the characters, and that's the way they want it. You'll see what you're meant to see, and if you're psyching yourself out waiting for something to jump out of the shadows, they're doing their job right. On top of that, we're also treated so several scenes we've seen before (if we've watched the previous film), such as the bone graveyard. Not that there's nothing new, we see much of the tunnel system we've never seen before, but it's nice to see these old touches that hearken back to the first film.

If there's one complaint I've heard about the original film, it's that the Crawlers were a stupid monster, not very threatening at all. Their "weakness", their blindness, was silly not because it's a cliche that they could then track by sound (despite not having any visually-obvious reason how their ears could register more than average) but that they couldn't track by any OTHER method; smell, for instance. Well, like or hate the cliche, the Crawlers are back, and they got a complete overhaul to make them look scarier, to actually make you think they COULD rip out your jugular with their teeth, which they do several times in this movie. For the most part, my reaction was positive, with Crawlers both scarier-looking and more individualistic, with no two looking quite the same. Some things should have been avoided (SPOILER: They just couldn't resist a big-ass-boss version of the crawler, could they?) but for the most part I was happy with the change.

If only I could say the same about the choice of cast this time around. While the six women in the first movie were all interesting and complex, the same can't be said about the meat that follow Sarah down into the mine depths. Sarah's forced amnesia is of course silly, but if it means McDonald is in the film, then fine. But the only remotely interesting members of the rescue expedition are the good-cop/bad cop duo. Bad-cop is Vaines of the Sheriff's department, played by Gavan O'Herlihy (Prince Valiant). Vaines is a big hulking brute of a man who tries to throw his authority around like he runs the place and secretly thinks Sarah has something to do with the disappearances of her fellow ladies (of course, even confronted with the crawlers, he still thinks Sarah's nuts) Good-cop is Deputy Rios, played by Krysten Cummings (a former Mimi Marquez on Broadway's Rent, she's making her film debut here). Rios is the compassionate one, and the one you sympathize with more when all is said and done. Sadly, the other three members of the rescue party are hardly worth mentioning, as they fail to capture even a glimmer of the likability or sympathy of the original cast.

Shauna McDonald said (and I'm paraphrasing from the special features) that she came in with the express goal of making a better film with The Descent, Part 2 than she had in the original. If she can't do that, she says, what's the point? And I certainly can't argue against that sentiment. If more sequels were better than the originals, the stigma against them in society would be far less. That said, The Decent, Part 2 is barely as good a film as the original, perhaps slightly less so. Despite the great work by MacDonald, the great set design, and a great launching point for Cummings to make her debut, the film slightly lacks. It lacks that chemistry the original cast had. It's missing the originality the first film truly possessed. And thanks to an ending that ultimately makes no sense (though perhaps setting itself up for a prequel), It's definitely not treading any new ground for future indie horror filmmakers to garner inspiration. But with the ground as eminently likable as this is, let's call it 4 out of 5 and say I was definitely happy overall. Definitely rent-worthy.

1 comment:

brian said...

I don't know. For a movie supposed to be set in caves, you see way too much. I thought the atmosphere, in comparison to the first one, was sorely lacking. This one played as an unintentional comedy to me. Or, maybe it was intentional. I don't give these guys that much credit.