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In Madness You Dwell

By TK Burton | Film | April 22, 2010 |

By TK Burton | Film | April 22, 2010 |

2005’s The Descent was an unexpected delight for horror fans. It sort of came out of nowhere — written and directed by then-unknown Neil Marshall (who had previously impressed us with Dog Soldiers), it was a grim, gory, innovative movie that quite frankly scared the hell out of me. That’s something that’s pretty uncommon these days — a horror movie that’s actually scary. Marshall’s story of six cave explorers who become trapped in a labyrinthine underground nightmare filled with creepy humanoid predators was a tribute to minimalist film-making. He used only the light generated by actual flashlights and flares, made good use of sound effects, and sparse music — successfully making the viewer feel like they were in the cave with the characters. It was, in a word, brilliant — so much so that we named it the best horror movie of the aughts.

So to say that a sequel had big boots to fill is an understatement. A sequel that went direct to video filled me with even more trepidation. But, I’ve found some real gems in the DTV world, so I gave The Descent Part 2 an honest shot. Written by J. Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) and James McCarthy, and helmed by first-time director Jon Harris, it takes place immediately after the events of the original. It starts off with the only survivor of the first film, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) being found covered in blood by a truck driver, and we quickly learn that it’s been three days since they disappeared, and a search party is mounted aggressively since apparently one of her fellow cavers, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), is the daughter of a U.S. Senator. It’s an unnecessary throw-in, but I let it slide. A suspicious and rather stupid sheriff immediately drafts a bed-ridden Sarah into helping a search party navigate the caves (though she apparently has amnesia and no recollection of the past two days), and from there, well, you can guess what happens. The party descends, gets lost, and mayhem ensues.

Now, before we go any further, I want you to participate in a small exercise. Walk around your house or apartment, and think carefully about the item in there that you treasure the most. For some, it may be a family heirloom, or a photograph. For some, something of more material worth — your big screen TV, your comic book collection, your sweet fancy car. Take that item, and lovingly gaze upon it. Then, I want you to set it on fire. And then, sit there, without moving, and watch it fucking burn. After doing that, you’ll have some idea as to what viewing The Descent Part 2 is like.

Jesus hobo-humping Beeblebrox is it a fucking terrible movie. It takes everything about the first movie that was great, and either throws it out the window, or twists it into an unrecognizable mess. It has such stupid, contrived plot devices that I was literally shouting at my TV for probably 40% of the movie. It is poorly written, badly directed, and fails on virtually every level. Good God, how do I even start.

Let’s begin with the plot. One of my least favorite tools used in plot development is manufactured drama. That is to say, when the story isn’t strong enough to stand on its own, writers and directors create drama where there should be none, usually via completely nonsensical plot devices. In this case, there are two massively guilty parties. The first is the sheriff (Gavan O’Herlihy), a gruff jackhole of a character who you know from the second he’s on screen is going to a) be a moron and b) die horribly. But not before he creates more problems than you could possibly imagine. He forces a injured and traumatized amnesia victim to immediately go back into the caves, and no one bats an eye? Really? In what fucking universe is that believable? He is constantly wary of Sarah, making wild accusations towards her, bullying her, and then, shockingly, she escapes from his berating and disappears into the caves on her own. Then, he simply bumbles the fuck around, yelling and shouting and accidentally firing his gun, practically ringing the goddamn C.H.U.D. dinner bell.

This, of course, leads to the second problem. The first film was believable because it involved six trained, experienced, no-bullshit action junkie spelunkers. They knew what they were doing, which means it made sense that they were down there. You knew from the very beginning that it was a dangerous endeavor, but they had the goddamn tools and the talent, as a wise man once said. Here, we have three experienced rescue workers, who then take a fat, half-witted sheriff and his young, naive, claustrophobic deputy (Krysten Cummings) with them, despite the fact that they have absolutely no experience. Best of all, they aren’t given a minute of training or advice — just strap on a fucking miner’s helmet and off they go. Sure. That makes perfect sense. Go into a complex, undiscovered cave system that just possibly killed five experienced cavers, but make sure you bring two dunderheads with zero idea of what the fuck they’re doing.

It’s nothing short of infuriating. The dialogue is horrific, full of moments. You know what I mean — forcibly dramatic moments where people get to Say Something Very Important — usually right before they get their face bitten off. Unrealistic exchanges like the following brilliant question-and-response sequence:

“What are those things?”

(ominous pause)


Oh, fuck me backwards with a shovel. The film tries to spice things up with random, inexplicable plot twists, like (spoiler, should you give a fuck) that Juno is still alive (end spoiler). Sarah bizarrely goes completely rogue and starts acting like a feral cave-ninja, a steely-eyed psycho whose heart is eventually softened by the deputy’s tale of her little daughter (because she had a daughter too, you see). The only actors who escape unscathed are the creatures, and that’s because they’re not forced to utter any of the wretched dialogue. However, all the mystery is removed from them — they’re shown too much and too often, removing the element of creepiness. The blood-and-gore factor is ramped up, but it’s weakly rendered and just there for shock value. Oh, and the scene of watching one of the creatures take a shit? Really the cherry on the sundae. No, I am not making that up.

Coupled with the fact that all of the innovations that made the first one great are notably absent. The lighting? Constant and baffling. There they are, trapped in a cave in pitch darkness, yet you can see everyone perfectly clearly in some scenes, despite having flashlights that are constantly dying (I guess no one thought to maybe check the goddamn batteries beforehand). The music is horrendous — in the original, the music was subtle and foreboding, barely on the edge of your consciousness, just enough to enhance the atmosphere. Here, it’s blaring and bombastic, an action movie soundtrack that’s completely misplaced. The jump scares, which the film relies on, are accompanied by explosive blasts of bass and cacophonous bleating music, completely ruining any sense of mood and totally removing you from the experience. And don’t get me started on the absolutely horrendous, shitballs fucking retarded ending. Oh. My. GOD. Not only is it completely unnecessary, but it doesn’t even make any sense.

The Descent Part 2 is the reason people hate sequels. It took a crafty, clever, interesting film and instead of building on that foundation and continuing its trajectory, it’s instead a giant leap backwards. It disregards all of the best parts of the original. It stocks up on rote caricatures, abandons any semblance of atmosphere, and writes itself into oblivion via miserable dialogue mixed with boorish and imbecilic melodrama. Neil Marshall was right to wash his hands of this sequel, and I hope he never had to sit through it. Hopefully, you never will either.

TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.