A nasty little revenge fantasy, Descentwould have critics up in arms if there was still any notion -- as there was back in the days when Pauline Kael bashed Dirty Harry -- that movies have enough of a stranglehold over popular thinking that they must be confronted and repelled if they lapse into a fascist mentality. The film, which premiered at this year's Tribeca film festival, stars Rosario Dawson as a college-aged student named Maya, who finds herself being aggressively talked into a sexual situation by a football player named Jared (Chad Faust) who won't take no for an answer. No, seriously -- he won't take no for an answer. After improbably luring Maya into a basement bedroom fit for Jame Gumm, Jared proceeds to violently rape her while whispering racial slurs into her ear. The movie is set up in a very deliberate three-act structure, with the brutal rape scene closing the curtain on act one, not to mention Maya's innocence. Although the first and third act constitute the main action of the film, it's the second that's most intriguing.
After a first act, which confines itself to a very short timespan -- maybe a couple of days -- the second act follows what we presume to be Maya's long journey toward recovery from her ordeal. On summer vacation from school, she gets a job at a local Gap-like store and takes to spending her nights engaging in act-out behavior like pill-popping and random sex in ecstasy-fueled party scenes. The film, which was co-written and directed by longtime Dawson collaborator Talia Lugacy, throws us off completely by not giving us any kind of clues or signals as to where the second act is going. Are we watching a romantic drama about a woman who suffers a random tragedy and has to learn to love and trust again? Are we watching a movie about a woman who starts out as a normal college student and lapses into a world of high-risk behavior? Unless you have foreknowledge, you really don't know where you're being taken through most of the middle section of the film, which is a credit to Lugacy.