The Darker Depths of THE DESCENT 2
By ALAN JONES
Terror mounts and fear cuts deeper in the chilling continuation to the horror hit THE DESCENT. Six weeks of principal photography are just wrapping up at London’s Ealing Studios on the highly anticipated THE DESCENT 2, which reunites all of the first film’s key cast and crew. Yes, that’s right: The six original actresses are back in varying degrees of involvement. Shauna Macdonald headlines as the surviving Sarah, Natalie Mendoza returns in a major twist and MyAnna Buring, Alex Reid, Nora-Jane Noone and Saskia Mulder appear on camcorder footage found deep in the caves.
While original writer/director Neil Marshall chose not to helm THE DESCENT 2, preferring to serve as executive producer this time around, he is on set for a day Fango visits the shoot. The reason? It’s Marshall who’s directing those log-cabin video flashbacks. “I wanted to see all the girls together again,” he says. “So if I was going to be here anyway for the reunion, I figured I might as well make myself useful.
“It was about two years ago that Celador Films producer Christian Colson told me there was a good chance of a sequel,” he continues, “and asked if I wanted to direct it. As far as I was concerned, THE DESCENT sewed everything up on my own creative terms. At the end of the day, it was going to be another film set in caves with Crawlers [including the one played by Adam Harvey in the exclusive pic above], and did I want to revisit that again so soon? The answer was no. I felt the ingredients that made the first film work so well needed to be reinvented by someone else. The project would always be in Christian’s safe hands, so I happily took a step back into an advisory capacity. I’m just so thrilled that a film of mine actually warranted a sequel.”
It was Colson who thought of Marshall’s replacement at THE DESCENT 2’s helm: Jon Harris, who cut its predecessor. The producer remarks, “Jon Harris’ name was mentioned as a possible candidate, and it was, ‘Bingo—that’ll work.’ He’s an absolutely brilliant, world-class editor, and intimately familiar with how THE DESCENT achieved its effect because of sitting in the edit suite every day. He also directed 2nd unit on THE DESCENT and my last film, EDEN LAKE. He got on with the actors and knew all the department heads well, and we all loved him, so it was the perfect fit. I mentioned my choice to Neil, and we both thought Jon was well-equipped to stay true to the original spirit, look, tone and feel while bringing something fresh and new.”
Colson also brought in his EDEN LAKE writer/director, James Watkins, to pen the DESCENT 2 script due to the relationship they forged during that prior production. “Lots of ideas flew around regarding the actual storyline,” says producer Ivana MacKinnon. “A trip back in time to the Crawlers’ genesis was one. But eventually, everyone involved threw things into the mix before we arrived at the exact structure. Neil’s input was crucial, of course; because he’s such a horror nut, he always knew what was old or had been done three times this year already. The bigger-is-better ALIENS tack was one we were keen to avoid. THE DESCENT was determinedly low-fi, which added to its charm—no firepower or explosions, really, just a gradual dwindling of light as our characters go deeper into the Crawlers’ living rooms. It was important to keep the sequel as contained as THE DESCENT was.”
THE DESCENT 2 begins with a confused, traumatized Sarah emerging from the Appalachian mountain caves where she confronted frightening foes: the Crawlers and her darkest dreads. With no rational explanation of what exactly happened or why she’s covered in blood, the police force her back into the subterranean depths to help locate her five missing girlfriends. But as the rescue party enters further uncharted territory, gradual flashbacks start haunting Sarah as shocking memories return. Only she begins to realize the full horror of their futile mission—and only she knows what lurks to trap them in the eerie shadows of the labyrinthine warrens.
Some might wonder why she’s alive at all, considering that Sarah was left to the claws of the Crawlers at the conclusion of THE DESCENT’s British cut (a bleak finale excised in the U.S. edition). “No matter what ending you saw, either in America or internationally, Sarah didn’t die,” Macdonald says. “I want to clear that up so no one thinks I’ve merely been resurrected for an easy sequel. I was scared when they first mentioned the idea, because I don’t want to let any DESCENT fans down. So Jon Harris made quite sure I was involved in the story development process for some control over Sarah’s actions. For example, simply being dazed at the beginning was not enough reason to get her back in the caves. Sarah having amnesia so she couldn’t remember the horrors, or what she did to her friends, made more sense. Having Sarah’s actions be as real and truthful as possible was vital to me. If the first film was Sarah’s soul descent, the sequel is her redemptive ascent.”
“All concerns fans have over the sequel, we had a hundredfold,” adds Mendoza, back playing Juno. “To go back to anything so successful is a daunting risk, and I had many questions that needed answering until I was sure the original film’s integrity would be maintained. Shauna and I couldn’t be closer to THE DESCENT, and for us to agree to come back and explore another psychologically motivated side of the story means we’ve given it our seal of approval. Your fears were our fears, and we’ve had them allayed because the themes and characters have been so well extended.”
New cast members in THE DESCENT 2 include Gavan (WILLOW) O’Herlihy as the hard-ass sheriff in charge of the rescue party, with musical theater actors Joshua Dallas and Douglas Hodge and newcomer Anna Skellern as the main search-team trio. Singer Krysten Cummings makes her film debut as Rios, the Hispanic cop who befriends the troubled Sarah and plays a crucial role in the climax.
“What an amazing experience,” says Cummings, who played Mimi in RENT on the Broadway and West End stage. “The team have welcomed me into their family with open arms, and I’m having a ball. Jon Harris says to me every morning, ‘Are you having fun?’ and I really am. Rios is a good cop who has moved from New York to the country to give her daughter a better quality of life. That’s the reason she connects with Sarah. They share maternal instincts, and while Sarah becomes increasingly Crawler-like herself, Rios is the only one on the team who can touch her last vestiges of humanity. We have the most incredible epiphany together that takes the horrors to another level.”
For makeup and prosthetics creator Paul Hyett, returning to the hellish bowels of the Earth represented a great opportunity to broaden and refine his Crawler designs. “We had already gone through a major testing period on THE DESCENT,” he explains. “So augmenting their personalities and looks and devising new, exciting killing methods were all I really had to worry about. I’ve played around more with their camouflaging skin tones, so they blend in better with their surroundings for stronger shocks. Jon wanted them more viciously feral, inbred, scarred and deformed, with rows of sharklike teeth for ripping flesh. Here, we go further into the creatures’ habitat and see their charnel house, bone-strewn domain and even a set we’ve affectionately dubbed the ‘Crawler Crapper.’
“What’s my favorite gore gag? When Sarah is reduced to the last weapon she has, a hairpin, and stabs it into a Crawler’s neck. The blood spurts everywhere—in her eyes and mouth—and its death rattle goes on for ages. It’s a truly superb and shocking moment in a sequel that,” he says, no doubt expressing fans’ hopes, “goes harder, nastier and more brutal than before.”