'The Descent: Part 2' has less emotional nuance but delivers as popcorn entertainment.

In an attempt to plumb the depths of fear again without appreciably lowering standards, several key talents behind cave-set cult horror-thriller “The Descent” reunite for “The Descent: Part 2,” although franchise founder Neil Marshall has passed the helming baton to editor Jon Harris. Treading closely in the steps of its predecessor in every sense, the sequel has less emotional nuance, shows more of the monsters and opts this time for a less interesting coed cast instead of the all-femme crew used so effectively in the original. Nevertheless, as popcorn entertainment, it delivers, and should satisfy fans on all platforms.

Picking up just two days after the events of “The Descent,” the action here returns to the scene of that pic’s crimes, somewhere in the Appalachians in North Carolina. Emergency-services workers search around the entrance to the cave system where the six female spelunkers went underground. Meanwhile, Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), seemingly the last girl standing — or crouching, to be precise — in the earlier movie, emerges from an abandoned mine some miles away, stricken with amnesia and covered in blood.

Redneck sheriff Vaines (Gavan O’Herlihy) and his empathetic deputy Rios (Krysten Cummings) drag Sarah back underground to find the missing party, with an assist from three rescue workers (Douglas Hodge, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern). Unfortunately, Sarah at first doesn’t remember — but auds will — that deep in the caves dwells a race of blind, slimy, ravenously hungry humanoids (“crawlers”) who preyed on Sarah’s friends first time round.

The script, credited to J. Blakeson, James McCarthy and James Watkins, soon gets the party started by separating the team so the crawlers can start picking them off one by one. Still, there are a few satisfying twists in store, which allow for exploration once more of themes of friendship, sacrifice and the ethics of survival.

Ultimately, however, “The Descent: Part 2″ is much less interested in character than in delivering the same kind of suspense and shocks as its predecessor. Canny use is made of the setting’s darkness, often thinly illuminated here by miners’ headlamps and flashlights but just bright enough to make out from time to time a crawler inching along a wall in the background unseen by a character. (Lensing by “Descent” veteran Sam McCurdy is aces.)  Helmer Harris, who edited both the first film and this one, cuts tightly once again.

That said, the pic relies on the same tricks over and over again. Auds can just about predict to the second when, after a requisite spell of quiet, something scary will happen, so fear is generated by constantly startling rather than surprising viewers. Aiding and abetting this strategy is the sound design, which alternates whispers, tiny drips and creaky stone murmurs with huge, explosive bursts of source noise and percussive music by David Julyan (another returning talent).

The Descent: Part 2

U.K.

Production

A Celador Films production. (International sales: Pathe, London.) Produced by Christian Colson, Ivana Mackinnon. Executive producers, Neil Marshall, Paul Smith. Co-producer, Paul Ritchie. Directed, edited by Jon Harris. Screenplay, J. Blakeson, James McCarthy, James Watkins.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Sam McCurdy; music, David Julyan; production designer, Simon Boweles; art directors, Michael Kelm, Mark Scruton; costume designer, Nancy Thompson; sound (Dolby Digital), Ivor Talbot; supervising sound editor, Danny Sheehan. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 15, 2009. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Krysten Cummings, Gavan O'Herlihy, Douglas Hodge, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern.

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