Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Descent Part 2 (2009)

You would think, after witnessing the abominable Nightmare on Elm Street remake, I would steer clear of cinematic trash. Yet, some force I couldn't resist placed me in front of a local Redbox last night, renting Descent 2.

What god have I offended that would allow me to watch two botched movie follow ups in one weekend?

Descent 2 is the sequel to Neil Marshall's brilliant horror film about 5 women adventurers exploring a cave that is home to the crawlers, who look like a mutant cross between bats and humans. These beings are blind, but are able to hunt due to their keen sense of hearing, and slowly pick off the party one by one.

I won't go into the details of the first film. If you haven't seen it, go buy a copy. It's one of the best horror films of the past decade and deserves to be in every horror fan's collection. This sequel, however, falls far short of the mark.

You should know, the first film was released with two endings. The original (foreign cut) is a chilling conclusion, while the version released in the States ends about three minutes early, with a standard jump scare. I'm sure the studio wanted to leave things open for a sequel. Watch the unrated version with the original ending and you'll understand what I'm saying.

To be fair, the film makers try to appease fans of both endings in the beginning of the remake. Sarah, the survivor of the first film, is found wondering along a road in the middle of the forest. She has no memory of the events in the cave, and is asking about her dead daughter (a nod to the original ending).

A search party has been looking for the women for a few days. Juno, the organizer of the original expedition, is related to a politician and this has sparked media interest in the disappearance. While Sarah is in the hospital, the local sheriff arranges for her release, in order to help with the search.

A tracking dog has followed her scent from the road to a long abandoned mine. Using this as a starting point, a rescue party heads down into the shaft, to explore a series of caves discovered by the miners.

Now, I normally like to dispense with a plot description before criticizing a film, but I was ready to scream at the television at this point. You see, the elevator down into the mines was inoperable and at the upper levels. The walls looked unclimbable and the passage way into the caves was still boarded up. No one had came out that way, unless Sarah had broken down the barricade, rebuilt it, then climbed a shaft that would pose a problem to a very experienced climber, and squeezed past the elevator blocking the exit. She might be many things, but even Houdini would find this impossible.

Regardless, the party continues. Within the caves, they find the remains of one of the original party. Sarah has a flashback of the events in the caves, attacks the sheriff and runs off. Eventually, the crawlers find the group, they split up and panic ensues.

Sounds like a great idea, right? But the execution is fumbled right from the start. The original film was able to generate a sense of claustrophobia with sparse lighting and great set designs. In this movie, the cave seems as open and well lit as a Disneyland ride. You can see everything, even with the meager light sources the party brought along. Any crawler moving in the background is so plainly visible that you wonder how the party could miss it. And this lack of tension renders all the jump scares impotent. I jumped at the introduction of the crawlers in the first film. In this one, I could only mutter, "Oh yea, didn't see THAT one coming."

Also, director Jon Harris seems to have a fetish for bodily fluids pouring into people's mouth. So many of the gore shots involve corpses or bleeding bodies emptying blood into screaming mouths, It doesn't take ling before you get sick of it, rather than sickened by the scene.

Okay, I'm getting into SPOILER territory here. If you plan on seeing this movie, against all my warnings, scroll down to the END SPOILER sentence.

The final nail in the coffin was the reappearance of Juno. Left for dead in the first film, she shows up late in the sequel to help lead the survivors out of the cave, after a quick fight with Sarah. This development is a major plot hole the film doesn't even try to fix.

Juno says she's found a way out, and offers to lead every to the opening. When asked why she didn't get out while she could, she says her flashlight died out. So, just think about it for a second. Juno found an opening, but didn't wait nearby to take advantage of it. Instead, she went back into the caves, where her flashlight burned out, rendering her blind. So, she's been surviving in a dark series of caves, fighting off/avoiding creatures adapted to such an environment. Yes, she's one tough lady, but how could she survive when she couldn't see the crawlers coming after her? Oh, wait. The caves are lit up like an amusement ride, she could see everything. I call bull.


By the time the nonsensical ending arrived, I was done with this film. It's no wonder the studio dumped it directly onto DVD. An audience would have laughed it out of the theaters.

Then again, a lot of people flocked to Nightmare over the weekend.