30 April 2010

The Descent: Part 2

The Descent: Part 2
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Douglas Hodge, Krysten Cummings, Gavan O'Herliby, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern
Written by James Watkins, J. Blakeson, James McCarthy
Directed by Jon Harris
Release: 2 December 2009, 27 April 2010 (U.S. DVD)

Pathe, 94 mins., Rated R

Plot: Sarah is forced down into the caves once again to meet her deadly enemy.

It was just a few short months ago when I first took a viewing with The Descent, after years and years of people giving it nothing but major kudos. Heck, even my local newspaper movie critic liked the flick, and he hardly likes anything that isn't some cheap, artistic independent production. So, saw the movie, and ended up buying it the next day. Obviously, much love from me as well, though it mostly has to do with the final 20 minutes, which absolutely is one of the most ballsy, awesome last 20 minutes put to film in a while. Thank the Lords, a local Redbox decided to grace the community with the newly-released in American Descent: Part 2, and I quickly snatched that beauty up.

Well, now that I saw it, what's the verdict? The good news: it's not utter crap, as I was expecting. On the contrary, it's a worthy follow-up to a rather brilliant film, complete with a decent cast, a alright story, and (most importantly) plenty of tense, freaky sequences to keep you 'on the edge of your seat.' Oh, and it also features another controversial ending, which I'll get to a few paragraphs down.

Part 2 is directed by Jon Harris, the editor of the original (and Kick-Ass!), and he is remarkably faithful to the visual style established by Marshall. Harris has a knack for framing, although sometimes the camera's placed in such a way, a jump or scare is painfully obvious (but nevertheless still effective). He makes good use of wide shots, close-ups, and using the darkness of the cave to his advantage, something Marshall excelled at. The cinematography is perhaps one of the key things I just a film by, and I can safely say that Harris did a exceedingly awesome job.

The script is a little less than brilliant, but is nevertheless fine enough. I myself was a fan of the Director's Cut of the original, and I really wanted to see how Sarah breaks out of the cave, although I wager fans only having seen the theatrical would be scratching their heads in confusion ('didn't she get out already?'). I also wanted a little bit more characterization, not just for the newbies onboard, but also for Sarah. A large amount of information on Sarah's psychology during the sequel I got from the behind-the-scenes feature, which discusses how the original was her 'descent' and the sequel more or less her 'ascent' (overcoming her inner turmoils and demons), as well as it being a redemptive piece for her. Perhaps it was Macdonald or her lack of dialogue, but I don't really feel that goal of the writers was effectively conveyed.

However, with this small shortcoming, there is nevertheless some awesome stuff. Notably, there's a beautiful scene halfway through where the search party comes across the videotape that was filming during the original, and it nicely adds a huge amount of chill-factor during the entire sequence. It's a nice way to callback to the original without going to a flashback or having Sarah give a long monologue (although she does comment about her and Juno's friendship a bit much). There's plenty of other great material, but I don't really want to spoil anything.

Oh, and one last little nitpik: the rescue party, the Sheriff and his deputy all seemed very one-dimensional, at least not intricate or real enough to invest any emotion into a character's death scene. I understand the movie is strictly Sarah's tale, but a little more emphasis on these blokes would have been appreciated. As it stands, it was more or less like this: 'that's the guy that fancies her but she doesn't fancy him', 'that's the hot chick in blue', 'that's the Sylvester Stallone character', and 'that's the grumpy arrogant Sheriff.'

I hope I don't sound like I'm bitching - I quite like the movie, it's just there are some noticeable errors. But let's put that aside for now: David Julyan's awesome music returns, complete with established themes and brand spankin' new ones! Julyan's work was highly instrumental in the power of the original's closing minutes, and it's quite nice to have David onboard again. Oh, and the Crawlers were just as cool as the first. They weren't as menacing and threatening as before, however, but they were nevertheless imposing. And for all those blood and gore junkies out there - Part 2 packs more than a fair share, so you'll be quite satisfied; especially with a hand-chomping-off sequence near the end.

Alright, spoiler alert concerning the finale, and I implore all to stop reading after the following sentence: in a nutshell, the finale is a fitting resolution of the storyline from the first, and nicely parallels the first film's ending shots, so in that regard I like it. The part I don't like (here comes the spoilers) follows about 20 seconds after Rios escapes: she is hit in the head by the old man in the beginning with a shovel, and is dragged back to the cave opening to become a hungry snack. This is seriously one of the few endings to any movie where I literally scratched my head, wondering WTF? It's almost as left-handed as Detective Hoffman's revelation in Saw IV. This old man knows about the Crawlers and helps them? Is he their baby dady? Their Secret Keeper? A out-of-left-field twist that was entirely unnecessary, and I quite dislike with a passion. What I don't mind, though, is everything that came before it. Although it's unfortunate and a little sad that Sarah didn't make it out alive (although her self-sacrificing moment was pretty cool, with the exception of the freaky possessed eyes she had when she started her Xena-esque scream), I nevertheless appreciate the ending and how it parallels the first movie. So, it's a 50/50 thing. Just coulda done without those final 20 seconds.

All in all, The Descent: Part 2 is quite good, and I definitely recommend. The characters aren't as rich as the previous installment, but in all honesty, I rented Part 2 to see Sarah and watch her story unfold - the side characters are exactly that: side characters. The directing, the score, the scares - they do justice to the original, and I commend them for that. Now with news on a Descent: Part 3, though, that one's gonna be a little harder to swallow. Anywho, rent it, watch it, The Descent: Part 2 is recommended. And the flick has officially veered me clear from any cave exploring and befriending old men who (obviously) have ulterior motives.


Nick said...

I really dislike the original film and think it is highly overrated. In fact, I think the *first* 20 minutes is the only good part, before the creatures show up. The claustrophobic stuff, just woman vs. nature, was loads more suspenseful than anything the creatures brought in.

So I'm not expecting much from the sequel, but I put it on my Netflix queue nonetheless.

Andy the Great said...

Considering all the 'OMG!!! Best movie EVUAHHH!' praise THE DESCENT receives, it's no surprise it comes over-rated.

In regards to the claustrophobic elements of the first, DESCENT 2 does offer a particularly tense scene where Sarah and Rios have to swim through a underwater dwelling in the cave. Talk about mucho claustrophobia.

When all is said and done, D2 is still 50 legions of undead zompires better than FEAST II & III. So, I think you'll find it OK and have fun making jokes at the annoying American actor.

Cheers, Andy.