Friday, October 1, 2010

I've Seeeen The Light!: The Descent: Part 2 (2009) Review

The Descent was easily one of the best horror movies of the past decade. It did a lot of things right, not the least of which was the lighting. As I mentioned in my ramblings about The Descent, too often in horror movies, a scene is illuminated when there is no logical source of light. It's particularly frustrating when characters are fumbling around, as if it is pitch black, but we (the audience) can clearly see everything. “What, are you frickin’ blind?! The knife’s right there! I can see it, why can’t you?!” It requires a suspension of disbelief that I'm just not capable of, and has ruined many a horror movie for me. In The Descent, instead of falling into the trap of lighting scenes that shouldn't be lit, so we can see the action, Neil Marshall actually uses the lack of light to make the film more immersive and really ratchet up the tension. I'm convinced it's a large part of the reason why the film works so well.

So, now that I’m the record (twice) about how stupefyingly good the lighting was in the original Descent, you're probably not going to be surprised when I say that the biggest problem with the sequel is... you guessed it, kids: the lighting. But I'll get to that in a moment.

The Descent: Part 2 picks up two days after the events depicted in The Descent, with a search party out looking for the six women that disappeared, caverning in the Appalachian Mountains. Before you can say "I wonder when the first jump scare will happen", a local hillbilly, some way away from where the search party is looking, stumbles across a bloodied, battered, and borderline catatonic Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), one of the six women who made the original hellish descent.

Sarah is quickly escorted to hospital, and is given a clean bill of (physical) health by doctors, but is unresponsive to questioning from the local cops about what happened to her and her five friends. Good cop, Ellen (Krysten Cummings), just thinks Sarah’s in shock. But bad cop, Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy), thinks she’s hiding something.

For reasons that aren't well explained, bad cop Vaines subsequently decides to form a small sub-search-party on the quiet and go search the area were Sarah was found, dragging the dazed and confused Sarah along for the ride. Conveniently, or coincidently, this means we now have a new party of six - Ellen, Vaines, Sarah and three rescue workers (including the too-cute-for-words, Australian actress, Anna Skeller) - making another descent into the "unchartered" caverns.

To be completely fair, The Descent: Part 2 is pretty good by horror movie sequel standards. But to be completely complete, horror movie sequel standards are pretty low. The film starts well, and the early cavern scenes are effective, but as the film moves into its third act director, Jon Harris, strays from what made the original film so effective and it hurts his sequel, big time.

Harris lays on the blood & gore, which is all fine and dandy, but in case there's any chance his audience might not see all the money he spent on the blood & gore effects he lights the "pitch black" caverns like a Victorian ballroom. We get a much better view of everything, to be sure, but it completely shatters the illusion of these poor sods being stuck in a dark, claustrophobic, cavern. It also means we see more of the cave dwellers and, as is so often the case with movie monsters, the more we see of them the less scary they become.

If the inexplicable bright lights illuminating the pitch black caverns don't ruin the final act for you then the film's conclusion surely will. The final scene feels like a desperate afterthought. Actually, an afterthought infers some sort of "thought", and that’s probably misleading. Clearly, no thought went into the film's finale which makes virtually no sense, and is completely irreconcilable with the events that transpire at the beginning of the film. It's not bad enough to take the award for most idiotic ending away from the recent Last House On The Left remake, but it's not far off.

The Descent: Part 2 works well for a good portion of its running time and is probably better than a sequel to The Descent deserves to be. It's just a shame Harris mishandles the film's last act, because it had the potential to be a genuinely worthy sequel.