There’s quite a bit of buzz surrounding Descent and Rosario Dawson’s performance in it. With a slew of movie quotes adorning the box it’s easy to get swept up in the prospect of a truly groundbreaking film that is made up of nothing but superb performances from all of the actors and is backed by a script as strong as a piece of wood, but in this case the film just seems to be made of wood, as there’s only a few knots holed into it to really make the film feel like anything more than a generic “shock” film.
In Descent, Maya (Rosario Dawson) falls victim to a violent act at the hands of Jared (Chad Faust), a fellow student at her university and in one night her world is torn apart. While she takes an entire semester off from the university where it happened, Maya falls into a state of disconnect from the world. When the new semester starts, Maya returns and faces Jared and exacts revenge on him on a way one would have never thought possible.
Describing the film like that makes it sound like a less impactful film than it really was, but it’s hard to deny that the film was indeed as “shocking” as the DVD packaging states. Unfortunately the film seems to be only bookended by the shocking events and what’s in-between really doesn’t tell us too much about what really happened to Maya in the mean time. The film seems to have been structured around the beginning and the end and there was no real motive for the end to take place in the way it did from what little we saw from her “experiences” during the semester off.
It’s hard to really take Descent too seriously, even though the subject matter for it is so strong and intense. While you get a good feel for Maya’s character leading up to the rape, what happens after it really doesn’t tell us anything. We never see her friends that we see in the beginning of the film, nor do we ever see her do anything but lounge around with an empty look on her face. He role with the man she apparently shacks up with makes no sense and by the time the end of the film rolls around you begin to wonder if you spaced out during it or whether it was really just that shallow of a film. There is absolutely no depth or psychological study going on in this film; no matter for how long and hard you look, you will not find a deeper meaning other than that Maya was raped and she seeks revenge on the man that did it too her. The way in which she gets the revenge is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the film, but after the “holy crap” factor wears off, the realization sinks in that while Jared really probably did deserve what he got, even after Maya fell victim to that crime, it doesn’t exactly match her character that we’re introduced to in the first half of the film.
Now obviously I’m making assumptions about Maya’s character because I honestly don’t have much to go on. Her descent into the mindset that she has in the end of the film is so poorly explained that the film really just ends up being a giant waste of your time. It’s obvious the rape/revenge was the only angle the film had going for it and it even failed to create a truly riveting film on top of that. I have no doubt that the writer and director hoped that the film would be able to last based solely on the beginning and end alone, but the more you stand back and think about it the more the film begins to tumble apart. In fact, just sitting here thinking about it I’m beginning to just pick apart this film more and more, as none of it seems to make sense. Indeed, Descent seems to be more about the decline the film takes rather than the one Rosario Dawson’s character does. Skip It.
Arriving from City Lights Media in a clear amaray DVD case and a DVD that sports the same art as the DVD cover. The first “shocking” element you’ll notice about the DVD, aside from the five critic quotes splattered around it, is the giant “NC-17” rating on the back cover, which denotes its rating is “For Brutal Rape.” I knew what the film was rated for, but to see it printed so largely was quite shocking. Not quite as shocking as how poor the film turned out to be, but still…
From a technical aspect, Descent is a fine presentation. Once again, City Lights Media lists a DTS audio track on the back despite there not being one, although the accompanying video and audio transfer is quite satisfactory all around. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks great and shows little signs of compression, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 track does a solid throughout. Not too much to expect from this film in terms of audio or visuals, but for what it’s worth its presented in a nice package.
Now we’ll dive into the bonus features found on this disc, which are actually quite robust. First are two deleted scenes, the first obviously at the beginning of the film in the cafeteria (6:11) and the second upon Maya’s return to university (8:54)…although she’s still jaded and quite upset in a way that I can’t quite pin down. If anything it had to be removed because it didn’t flow with any of her character moments in the film.
Next up is a Q&A (40:30) whose video and audio quality looks like it came from some fan recording…which, according to the end credits, it seems it did, so that explains it. It actually delves into the film quite a bit, but I doubt anyone will care too much about the film to watch this. Dawson does an admirable job explaining her thoughts and feelings about the film, but it’s really like watching a car try to get off of the train tracks. You know the end result, so watching it try to move is simply futile—maybe not the best metaphor, but I’m at a loss of what to say about this film that doesn’t involve me saying it’s completely uninspired and horribly executed for the fifth time.
Next is an interview with Rosario Dawson (13:19) and we get a bit of the same from the Q&A, but it’s mixed with some new stuff as well. A quick behind the scenes with the director (2:12) and finally a commentary with writer Brian Priest, writer/director Talia Lugacy and Rosario Dawson wrap up the bonus features for this DVD release.
Overall, while the DVD features are certainly nice and varied, the film is really just a waste of your time. It tries to be something astonishing and instead it just stumbles and searches for a way out of itself like a person in a dark room. There I go again with the metaphors! Skip it.
Descent arrives on DVD on February 5th in R and NC-17 editions.