directed by Talia Lugacy
(City Lights, 2007)

Women really have it rough. So many men are cold, calculating, selfish and cruel -- and, in too many cases, violent -- and each woman has to try and find the needle in a haystack that is a truly good man. I don't know how women can trust a single one of us, to be honest. Most men just don't understand that women are exquisite and precious, and that we don't even deserve their notice or attention. The lowest of the low, of course, are male rapists. I think any man who would rape a woman deserves the most severe of punishments. And that, my friends, is what Descent is all about.

Provocative, controversial, unforgettable -- these adjectives and many more like them fail to even do true justice to this film. Descent is an incredibly brave and shocking film, and Rosario Dawson turns in an Oscar-worthy performance. Unfortunately, the film's NC-17 rating (which, I think all will agree, is quite justified) means the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole, but Descent certainly made waves at the Tribeca Film Festival and has had audiences talking wherever it has played. Personally, I have all kinds of respect for the filmmakers because they told the story they wanted to tell and didn't water it down in order to get an R rating (and thus open up many more marketing opportunities for the project).

The story follows Maya (Rosario Dawson), a studious young college student, as she attempts to rebuild her life after being raped. When he first introduced himself to Maya at a party, Jared (Chad Faust) came across as a slightly creepy but seemingly nice guy -- weird but nice. I thought he came across a little strong in his efforts to get a date with her, but Maya wouldn't have finally agreed to go out with him if she didn't think he was serious about her. Once Jared finally gets Maya back to his place, though, we see him as the monster he truly is. The rape scene itself is disturbing, but it's not nearly as explicit as I expected.

Following this night, Maya withdraws into a lost and empty soul. In time, she begins frequenting a local dance club and using alcohol to ease her inner pain. It is there that she meets Adrian (Marcus Patrick), who really doesn't live up to his reputation as a helper of lost souls. Despite his own major character flaws, however, he does help Maya empower herself to return to her former life. When she crosses paths with Jared once again, she has the inner strength to deal with it. Boy oh boy, does she deal with it, as you'll see in the film's shocking conclusion.

Descent does have the feel of a film-festival type of movie. We are treated to several tiny moments in Maya's life that don't seem relevant on the face of things, transitions are often marked by several seconds of cinematic blackness, and there's a somewhat disjointed sense of time as events progress -- for example, we immediately jump ahead several months following the rape. The film also poses some provocative questions, especially in terms of revenge. No matter how much you may sympathize with Maya, some will feel that she takes her revenge way too far, and it's an open question as to whether or not she finds any peace at all in the wake of her actions. No matter who you are, one or more aspect of this film is bound to make you uncomfortable, and therein is where the true power of this film comes across loud and clear.

Some viewers have expressed a sense of disappointment with this film, but I was more than impressed by the story and the somewhat surrealistic way in which it was presented. This is a decidedly gritty film that digs all the way down to the roots of human emotion, treading a dark path that few filmmakers are willing to travel. It is perhaps no accident that Descent represents the first feature-length film from director/co-writer/producer Talia Lugacy as well as the producorial debut of Dawson herself. (I should mention the fact that the DVD comes with a director/writer commentary that also includes Dawson, a post-screening Q&A video with Lugacy and Dawson, exclusive interviews and two rather lengthy deleted scenes -- the second of which would have added even more dimensions to the depth and scope of the film.) The deep and intimate level of Dawson's commitment to her character clearly shows, making this film a tour de force that is, in the words of the New York Times, "hard to watch but essential to see."

review by
Daniel Jolley

17 July 2010

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