Meat's back on the menu, girls!!

I was a big fan of the movie The Descent, which pits a group of young women cavers against a colony of blind flesh-eating proto-humans in a dark and claustrophobic cave nightmare. This is the kind of movie that you really need to pause regularly, and it combines all of our worst fears – claustrophobia, darkness, betrayal, and being eaten alive by grey slimy beastmen – in one compelling package. So I was interested to watch the sequel, which is a slightly Aliens-style re-entry into the darkness. In the sequel the hero of the first movie, Sarah, has somehow survived the original horrors and turns up on a road 2 days after they all entered the original caves. Searchers are out looking for the missing girls but are, of course, looking in the wrong cave system, so aren’t going to find them, let alone carry their shattered remains out. So when the captain of the search crew discovers that Sarah is in a hospital, amnesic and terrified, he decides to get her to help find the other girls. The fact that she rocked up covered in other peoples’ blood and doesn’t remember anything doesn’t deter him, and in fact causes him to make the big mistake of treating the situation like a crime. He basically thinks he needs to rescue the girls from Sarah’s perfidy, or find their bodies and charge her with murder, and this is how he acts through the entire first half of the film.

A team of cavers is established, and head through an abandoned mineshaft into the caves. From this entry point we realize the provenance of the old caving equipment found in the first story, and discover another emergency exit, but it ain’t going to be no use to our team. By a series of (in some cases slightly disappointing) classic horror movie fuck ups they get lost, separated, and then the beasts in the earth (who I call “the Grey Men”) come to get them. Sarah is with them but nobody trusts her and from the moment they find the first body they think she may be a murderer, or mad. Her memories only come back slowly, as does her sense of survival, and for a short part of the movie she acts distressed and confused, which loses everyone valuable time in dealing with the threat they face. By the time she gets her act together the gore has begun to fly, and the remainder of the movie flows very much like the second half of The Descent – desperately scrabbling to escape a situation that it seems must inexorably drag all the characters to their horrific doom.

The Descent Part 2 was directed by a different, novice Director, so it doesn’t have quite the brilliance of the first movie, but it maintains much of the same tension and pace. The Crawlers are almost as terrifying, though a tad more monster-like. This time they’re  not terrifying solely by dint of their environment, but incorporate greater strength and power, though not to the extent that they’re a caricature. They’re still easily defeated in one-to-one combat in the light by strong humans, and still depend on terror, surprise and darkness for their victories. The fear is still at a quite intense level, and most of the decisions people make and the split-second acts they take are believable and reasonable. Unlike the first movie it relies on a few classic horror-movie tropes that can frustrate the viewer – the “advance even though there’s a big fat warning staring you in the face” option, especially, I find really frustrating and though this was once okay, in modern horror writing I think it’s a bit weak.

Although early on the movie goes over the top on the gore scale, in general the gore is at a lower level than in the first movie. Tension is maintained through environment, confusion, and darkness. The characters have a few more gizmos – radio communication, IR scope, etc – that make for some interesting fear-enhancers, and the discovery of the girls’ video camera makes for a really disturbing scene. There’s also a funny moment of Gygaxian Naturalism, as we find out a bit more about how the monsters live in their colony, and are reminded again that we are dealing with a natural, evolved species who are in that place for a reason, not monsters. I thought there was also a hint near the end of a leader-figure amongst the Crawlers, a kind of alpha male, which could make for interesting future movies.

The ending was a tiny bit confusing – something comes out of left field that really can’t be explained, and is obviously only there to set up a sequel – but the unresolved questions it leaves behind don’t bother me at all, in fact I quite like the possibilities it raised for future movies. In some ways the ending of The Descent Part 2 is even grimmer than the first movie, which is kind of cool. I think though, the way this movie ends won’t be to everyone’s taste – some viewers will think it’s an overdone or preposterous ending, or will just not be able to envisage any kind of explanation for it, so will reject it as farcical. It doesn’t spoil the movie overall though, and right up until literally the last 5-10 seconds the ending makes perfect sense and is perfectly acceptable.

The acting was generally good, though there were one or two moments that were either ham-fisted or melodramatic, but the cast were generally solid and gave us a believable rendition of the mounting fear. Particularly, early on when the first (environmental) troubles hit the group, and we aren’t yet sure if the Crawlers are even on the scene, the cast do a good job of muted unease and fear, which slowly mounts. It certainly didn’t seem to hamstring the general atmosphere.

Overall, I think this movie is a good addition to the original, an excellent introduction to a series of movies expanding on the lives, ecology, and horrible habits of the Crawlers, and for most of its length both well-paced and scary. Of course it’s not up to the standard of the original, but I don’t think it lets it down in any way. Well worth seeing if you aren’t a caver.

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