Descent

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A small subgenre of films has arisen about women who are victims of rape or torture and manage to turn the tables on their assailants.

Two decades ago, Farrah Fawcett played the avenging female in the movie version of "Extremities," and Roman Polanski's "Death and the Maiden" (1994) gave a political slant to the same theme as Sigourney Weaver relished the opportunity to torture her former interrogator, Ben Kingsley.

Last year, Patrick Wilson was a sexual predator who met a grisly comeuppance at the hands of teen avenging angel Ellen Page in "Hard Candy." And now it's Rosario Dawson's turn to get even in "Descent," which had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is opening in limited release. The grim, repellent tale directed by Talia Lugacy seems unlikely to snare much of an audience.

Dawson plays a college coed, Maya, who meets a handsome jock, Jared (Chat Faust), at a party. She manages to resist his blandishments at first but agrees to have dinner with him later and eventually finds herself in his apartment. While Maya is attracted to him, she tries to call a halt to his sexual advances; he responds by raping her and abusing her verbally with vicious racial slurs.

Then there is a cut to several months later, and this is when the film goes seriously awry. We have no idea whether Maya tried to take legal action against Jared or even whether she confided the details of the attack to friends or counselors. Perhaps she felt she was on shaky ground because she had agreed to visit his apartment, but we have to guess at what went on in her mind; her emotional anguish is unexplored.

One can understand that the film didn't want to take the straightforward approach of the Jodie Foster courtroom drama "The Accused." But Lugacy's elliptical, stylized rendition of the heroine's trauma isn't very satisfying. The dark lighting of much of the movie and the incessant use of pretentious music (including a piano sonata by Schubert) undermine audience involvement.

After time has elapsed, Maya meets Jared again and lures him to her apartment for what he thinks will be a replay of their previous encounter. She seduces him into stripping naked, then blindfolds him, ties him to the bed and exacts a terrible humiliation with the help of Adrian (Marcus Patrick), a bartender who becomes her partner in crime.

These are the only three significant characters in the movie. Patrick's role is completely bewildering and thankless, but Faust and Dawson deliver compelling performances. Dawson conveys Maya's agony, even though the script and direction don't give her much help. The final brutalization of Jared -- somewhat reminiscent of a bizarre scene of Raquel Welch ravishing a stud in "Myra Breckinridge" -- goes on long past the point of any meaningful social or psychological commentary. The film might express a female revenge fantasy, but in the end it's too seamy and sadistic to have any lasting value.

DESCENT
City Lights Pictures
Credits:
Director: Talia Lugacy
Screenwriters: Brian Priest, Talia Lugacy
Producers: Morris S. Levy, Rosario Dawson, Talia Lugacy
Executive producers: Danny Fisher, Jack Fisher, Joe Fisher, Gary S. Gumowitz, Michael Almog, Michael Califra, Michael Bassick, Jess Mogul
Directors of photography: Christopher LaVasseur, Jonathan Furmanski
Production designer: Tristam Steinberg
Music: Alex Moulton
Co-producers: Jeff Mazzola, John Scaccia
Costume designer: Amy Ritchings
Editor: Frank Reynolds
Cast:
Maya: Rosario Dawson
Jared: Chad Faust
Adrian: Marcus Patrick
Running time -- 104 minutes
No MPAA rating
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