Sending blood-splattered Sarah MacDonald) back into the caves of the Appalachian Mountains is an odd premise for a sequel to Neil Marshall’s 2005 cave-diving chiller The Descent – odd on account of her not actually escaping her subterranean ordeal the first time out. But that was only one ending of the film, Sarah coming to and discovering that she, in fact, was still stuck in the damp, dark crawler-infested depths, her escape a trick of the mind. Shorn of this downbeat conclusion for its North American release though, Sarah makes good her escape and director Jon Harris uses this as his jumping off point for the sequel. However, this departure from Marshall’s narrative lineage isn’t the only difference between Parts 1 and 2 as Harris’s film is an altogether very different creature.
Found, blood-drenched and hysterical, by the police as a search for the missing cavers is underway in the full glare of the media, Sarah finds herself less a survivor and more a suspect, with the local Sheriff assuming her responsible for the girls’ whereabouts. It is for this reason that he insists on her accompaniment when the party moves underground in search of Juno, Beth and the rest of the missing girls. Sarah can’t remember what happened but it doesn’t take too long in the murky confines of the suffocating darkness – aided by the unveiling of the caves’ inhabitants and their dietary requirements – for her memory to return.
The production of Marshall’s film was against the clock somewhat to beat the similarly-themed yet vastly inferior The Cave (the Cole Hauser-starring US movie favouring underground winged-beasties and action over chills and suspense) into theatres, and Harris’s sequel has more in common with this than with Marshall’s sophomore film. The look is the same, the dark, dripping tunnels and omnipresent fear of what lay within them, and the action as frenetic, but the tone is very, very different. Where there was little hope in Part I – no redemption for the girls who promptly descended into in-fighting as soon as the going got tough – and the mood was one of devastating fatality, Part II favours a more light-hearted approach. Not in an Evil Dead sense, but rather there are moments of levity (the search party encounters the crawlers’ restroom, for example) which detract from the horrific events elsewhere, and jumps orchestrated by deliberate misdirection are played for laughs as much as screams.
Light on tension and the pervading claustrophobia, which made Part I unbearably bleak in places, Blakeson, McCarthy and Watkins’s script is lacking the dialogue and characterisation to truly get to know this new set of crawler-fodder, stripping their demise of any emotional affect. The film shouldn’t be viewed solely in relation to the original though, but in being titled Part II and following on directly from earlier events, it is intended very much as a companion piece rather than a spin-off sequel. It is a hugely entertaining film, with plenty of gore, shocks and surprises to keep genre fans entertained, a surprise return from one of the original gang will keep Marshall fans happy and it has the crossover appeal to reach an audience unfamiliar with our first encounter with the crawlers. It is a tad ironic though, given the film’s downbeat-sidestepping origins, that it throws a third act curveball of its own.
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