Film fans are sour on genre sequels with good reason. For the most part, they are obvious money grabs, prepackaged and purposefully designed to act as easily recognizable (and marketable) retreads, the better to bank on willing audience’s wallets. Sure, there are rare instances when the follow-up equals (or even outdistances) the original, but for every Aliens there is a Predators 2, for every Nightmare on Elm Street, there are numerous noxious installments of Freddy Krueger’s dream deaths. The same sad thing happens to Neil Marshall and his highly original horror movie The Descent. When it hit theaters in 2005, it was seen as an inventive, claustrophobic journey into the bloody bowels of flesh-eating Hell. Now, with the pointless sequel going direct to DVD, it’s easy to appreciate the original, and almost impossible to embrace the redux.
It’s been over 48 hours since a group of experienced females spelunkers went missing in the Appalachian Mountains. The disappearance has earned some major national attention since the leader of the doomed expedition, Juno, is (apparently) a Senator’s daughter. Suddenly, without warning, a locale farmer finds a bloody and battered member of the group running across the road. With no memory of what happened, Sarah miraculous appearance draws concern – and the consternation of Sheriff Vaines. He wants to know what happened and arranges to take the gal back down into the deep dark Earth from which she just crawled. With the help of a formidable rescue team and a secret passageway in an abandoned mine, Sarah and the sheriff are suddenly scrambling for their life, face to face with the evil entities that call these caves their home.
There is nothing worse than a fright film that makes your work for its mediocre, minimal payoffs. From expecting you to remember plot points from several years back to throwing unknown narrative twists at you right up front, it’s better to deliver than deny. The Descent 2 violates this maxim, and then decides to really grow annoying. From Juno’s high powered connection to the fate of specific characters left for dead last time around, director Jon Harris and a team of three screenwriters slowly dismantle what Neil Marshall managed with his imagination and ingenuity. It’s not just that the story gets scattered around four or five specific arcs, each one uninvolving and hard to follow. It’s not the introduction of unexplained individuals with motives that seem in sync with the cave-dwelling cannibals. It’s not even the lack of gore or good old fashioned suspense.
Instead, The Descent 2 wants to tie back to the original almost exclusively without bringing anything new or interesting to the proceedings. Sure, the freaky farmer who always seems to be hanging around provides a nice ripe red herring (that is, until the crappy ending) and the sheriff – played with reckless disregard for reality by Gavan O’Herlihy – is clearly functioning under a different set of Constitutional laws. But these ancillary elements don’t provide enough of a reason to return to this particular take. After all, did we really care what happened to Sarah? Marshall made it pretty clear with his TWO versions of the ending that he didn’t. In either case, she was a lost cause (and played by returning actress Shauna Macdonald as such).
Now, she’s supposed to be a heroine, albeit a sad excuse for same. She’s belligerent, uncooperative, and downright dismissive at first, and then once her memories of mass murder return, she’s grabbing her hiking gear and making a beeline for the nearest exit. Then, for no reason (and you’d think the trio of writers could come up with a rationale), she decides to take on the champion’s mantle and save some lives. Huh? Why, exactly? In the original film, Sarah was seen as a woman wronged, someone using the unusual circumstances presented her to punch a peer in her smug, self-excusing face – and when a chance to revisit said dynamic arrives, it’s blown off with a short, stupid sequence. Without a character or situation to support, The Descent 2 dies.
Even worse, the monsters this time around are clunky, clueless, and far less menacing. Marshall made the decision to keep them encased in darkness, making their horrific albino features and jackrabbit attacks all the more frightening. Here, Harris has them walking around in what appears to be the fissure version of daylight, and the flawed F/X look to the beasties is laughable. They no longer come across like lithe, deadly demons. Instead, they have bad skin, flat faces, and little or no sense of direction (or dread). Since we already know what they are capable of, Harris and company needed to up the ante. Instead, they believe that bringing us back to this hillbilly hideaway will somehow invoke the same sense of terror. It definitely doesn’t.
With its back-and-forth plot pointing, illogical leaps in pragmatic believability, and a finale that flips a big fat middle finger at anyone who invested 90 minutes in this junk, The Descent 2 cannot hold a miner’s candle to the original. Instead, it looks more like someone’s incredibly poor interpretation of Marshall’s idea, lacking anything that makes it stand out or scream for our attention. From the interchangeable cookie-cutter characters to a total lack of atmosphere, it’s enough to warrant a lawsuit from the filmmaker – that is, if he wasn’t already selling out by giving this mess his “Executive Producer” blessing. At least when Clive Barker pimped out Pinhead for more Hellraiser hooey, he tried to maintain a level of control. The Descent 2 didn’t need to be made, but if money mandated a return, it surely didn’t have to end up like this. How sad. How sequel.