From some of my other horror reviews on this blog, it should be fairly apparent that I’m a big fan of 2005’s The Descent. A British film directed by Neil Marshall, The Descent turned so many of the different conventions of horror on its head while still maintaining the true scares that make great horror films good. With a virtually all-female cast who refused to bow to the dumb-blonde horror lead cliche and scares that were derived as much from claustrophobia and that all too human fear of the dark as from the monsters terrorizing the heroines, The Descent was a fresh break from the growing presence of torture porn and tireless sequels. Along with the first Paranormal Activity, 28 Days Later, and Let the Right One In, it remains one of my favorite horror films of the 2000’s. So, when I heard they were making a sequel, I was simultaneously concerned and excited. I was excited because I loved the original film so much but I was concerned because horror sequels are terrible 99% of the time. As it turned out, The Descent: Part 2 fails to live up to the admittedly high standards of the original film, and while compared to the rest of the horror market it is still remarkably scary, in the shadow of the original film, it fails to impress and instead leaves me terribly disappointed.

Apparently, the version of the original The Descent that I saw had an alternate ending because mine ended with Sarah (the film’s sole surviving heroine) waking up from a fantasy where she escaped the caves to still be there trapped with the monsters (though there was a subtle implication that she had killed everyone and the monsters weren’t real). This film begins with Sarah as the sole survivor of her group’s disastrous spelunking expedition while the local police are involved in a manhunt for the missing girls. When the local Sheriff discovers that Sarah has escaped, he forces a nearly catatonic Sarah (as well as his deputy and a crew of trained spelunkers) to go back into the caves to try and find the lost girls (since Sarah is too broken to say what really happened). It isn’t long before the subterranean humanoids are back as they start to pick off the crew one-by-one, and Sarah is forced to recognize what really happened if she wants any chance of living.

One of the things that made the original film so great was that rather than relying on stock horror archetypes and cheap characterization, the film devoted a healthy amount of time before the scares arrived to really fleshing those women out. By the time they entered the monsters’ feeding area, you felt like you really knew these girls and thus it was more painful to see them torn apart by cave people. This film does not spend the same amount of time on character, and thus, there is no real human connection with the main characters’ suffering and the film suffers for it. Similarly, the caves themselves were as essential to the horror experience in the first film as the monsters and it isn’t utilized as well this time around. Much more focus is given to bloody deaths and more visible monsters, and that takes away much of the disturbing unknown elements of the original film. The most positive thing I can say for this movie is that it is still quite scary (because those monsters are inexplicably creepy) and there’s a twist about half-way through that I can’t imagine anyone saw coming.

For people who thought the first film was too talky and slow and deliberately paced (i.e. all of the things I loved about the first film), then you’ll probably love this entry because once the action starts (which is fairly early in the film compared to the first), it never lets up and it is far more gruesome this time around. Unfortunately, the original set a much different kind of standard for horror storytelling for me, and I am unwilling to settle with the more unambitious fare on display in this sequel. Perhaps, my high level of dissatisfaction with this film is directly related to how high I regard the original film, but this just re-affirm all of my suspicions that entertaining and original horror films are universally denigrated when the studios try and cash in on cheap and easy sequels (Saw, Scream, Paranormal Activity, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.). By no means is this film awful, but we all know that they could have done better.

Final Score: B-

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