Getting to the set of The Descent 2 somewhat surprisingly does not require a trip underground. Like the 2005 original, the sequel shot mostly in caves recreated on studio sets - this time for a 40-day shoot at London's Ealing Studios with some location work in England and Scotland (the shoot wrapped in late June).
The sequel reunites many of the team from The Descent, including producer Christian Colson of Celador, which is 100% financing the film, a production with Pathe. This time, the first film's editor, Jon Harris, is directing while original director Neil Marshall is producing. Production designer Simon Bowles, DoP Sam McCurdy and composer David Julyan also return.
Pathe is again handling international sales, with territories sold including Germany (SquareOne), Latin America (California), Japan (Kadokawa), Benelux (Dutch Filmworks), Taiwan (Applause), Singapore and Malaysia (Festive Films), Indonesia (Queen Imperial) and Thailand (M Pictures). Pathe Distribution will release in the UK in the first quarter of 2009.
Colson said the original film's ending - not to mention its box-office earnings of more than $57m worldwide after being made for just $6.6m (£3.5m) - put ideas for a sequel in place soon after its 2005 release. 'We knew we wanted the key team back and that the script had to be great, not just a cynical attempt to cash in,' he says.
James Watkins' screenplay picks up with Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), one of the group exploring the cave in the first film, who emerges alone. She returns to search for her friends with expert cave rescuers and police, again encountering the 'crawlers' and learning more about their story in the process.
Macdonald and Natalie Mendoza reprise their roles alongside Gavan O'Herlihy, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern, Douglas Hodge and Krysten Cummings.
A slightly altered US ending to the 2005 film leads to an interesting start. 'There will be a bit of fancy footwork to align the beginning of the sequel to the two endings,' Colson notes. 'But they aren't that different - in the UK one she was alone and delusional below ground, and in the US one she was alone and delusional above ground. But the journey is the same really.'
Harris elaborates: 'We didn't want to make a sequel stretching out the old ideas, it had to be something new as well. What I really want is to tell more of Sarah's story. There's also the idea she might be imagining it all because she's losing her mind.'
Harris was a natural choice to direct, Colson says. 'Neil Marshall was an editor, too. I'm surprised more people don't make that move - editors know what the key strengths are in storytelling. He was intimately familiar with the first film and how it achieved its effects. He absolutely knows what he wants to see in the cutting room.'
Harris himself is enjoying the change of pace after editing projects such as Starter For 10 and Stardust. He began his career with an eye to direct, and made several shorts, but then moved into editing. '[The transition from editor to director] was more common back in the studio era,' he notes. 'It's strange how these days nobody bats an eyelid when a writer or actor has a crack at directing, but it's more rare for an editor.
'I'm having fun,' he says of his first foray into directing a feature. 'I've spent a lot of time on sets and seen results doing it different ways so I'm trying to draw on different experiences.' He will also edit the film.
The sequel is budgeted 'in the same ballpark' as the first film. Colson, who has recently produced Eden Lake and Danny Boyle's Toronto world premiere Slumdog Millionaire, says the original's lower budget actually benefited the film. 'There was a little CGI but it was mostly low-tech, and that meant we got a lot of tension out of the environment,' he explains. 'There was an unpretentiousness to it, and it played absolutely real. We're still avoiding girls in bikinis and explosions and action cliches.'
Shooting in actual caves would have been a logistical nightmare, which is something the team realised on the first shoot. Simon Bowles created the original caves and has designed a more extensive cave system for the new film. 'It's on a similar timescale yet weirdly a tighter budget because this set is bigger,' he notes. 'The first one was more chase. This one is more exploring the crawlers in these twisty tunnels.'
On the earlier film, Bowles decided not to build the caves out of plaster but to pioneer the use of insulation foam spray to create lighter, remouldable sets. 'The mouth of the cave system we've designed to seem magical and beautiful, almost like a fairy-tale space, but by the end there's black rocks and blood. The deeper you go down, the more horrifying it gets,' he says.
The sequel could herald a Descent franchise, Colson notes. 'There could be a third one, but right now we're focusing on making this one as good as it can be.'