Starring Rosario Dawson, Chad Faust, Marcus Patrick, Christopher DiBlasio, Vanessa Ferlito, Spencer Grammer, Jacqueline Duprey, Alexie Gilmore, Melissa Gallo, Connor Fux, Sergia Louise Anderson, Scott Bailey, John Budinoff, Isabel Dawson and Tracie Thoms.
Screenplay by Talia Lugacy.
Directed by Talia Lugacy.
Distributed by City Lights Pictures. 110 minutes. Rated NC-17.
In the carnival business, there used to be a warning sign which was posted outside some of the more disturbing attractions. It read simply, “This is a dark ride.”
Well, Descent is a dark ride.
A very, very dark ride.
Descent is not an easy movie to watch. That does not mean that it isn’t a very worthy film. In fact, it is a fascinating look at some dark areas in all of us. However, it is sordid, pessimistic, troubling and shatteringly honest.
Rosario Dawson plays Maya, a smart, pretty but rather shy college student. She spends her time in her dorm room or the library. When she goes to parties, she drinks soda. She barely dates and is okay with her life that way. In the meantime she is excelling in her studies, impressing her professors and garnering notice on campus.
All of this changes when she meets Jared (Chad Faust of The 4400) at a frat party. Jared is a pretty boy and a jock and comes on to her strong. At first, Maya avoids his advances, but eventually his eccentric, self-deprecating sense of humor causes her overrule her natural red flags. She ends up back in his room where things go from zero to sixty very fast, and when she tries to put on the brakes he overpowers her and not only physically rapes her, but also calls her racially charged names.
However, don’t think that Descent is a TV-movie look at date rape. Its sensitivities are much more subtle and disturbing than that. There is going to be no scene where after encountering disbelief of friends and faculty, the guy slips up and is carted off to jail.
In fact, Maya does not report what happened. By day, Maya – who was not particularly outgoing anyway – completely retreats into herself, mutely and dazedly forcing herself through the simplest daily tasks. However, eventually it occurs that at night she is changing in different ways. She starts hanging at a dingy, smoky club near her home. She befriends the club DJ/pimp/pusher (Marcus Patrick), experimenting with drugs and promiscuity.
At first, it seems a jarring juxtaposition, until you research and learn that this is a surprisingly common reaction of rape victims.
However, even this awakening of her baser interests is a bit of a red herring. It turns out that Maya is plotting revenge on Jared, which is played out in a hard-to-watch, extended final sequence. It could be argued that the revenge she gets is even marginally worse than her experience. (Please, no angry emails. I’m in no way suggesting that what happened to Maya wasn’t completely horrific or that Jared did not probably bring it upon himself. I’m just saying that she raises it to a level which could be argued to be even more shattering.)
The film is rather ambiguous about whether this vengeance will help Maya deal with what happened to her or merely make things worse – I tend to think it will be the latter. Violence begets violence and ugliness is still ugliness, even when there is a valid reason for it.
Still, Descent gives a compelling look at the heart of darkness. The first film by Dawson’s childhood friend Talia Lugacy, (Dawson was a producer of the film as well), this is obviously a labor of passion. It is occasionally slow-moving and a little confusing, but that is a necessity of the story it is telling, I believe. The cast is mostly made up of unknowns, though there are several fine performances. (Other than the two leads, the only face I recognized was Tracie Thoms of The Devil Wears Prada and Cold Case, who only had one short scene, undoubtedly doing Dawson a favor.)
Descent does not offer much in the way of hope for human nature. However, art does not have to be uplifting. Sometimes it is better to shine a light in the dark corners of life. This film achieves this with alarming accuracy. Even people who do not like Descent – which I did – will find it hard to ignore or forget.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 10, 2007.