Expecting another monsters-in-a-cave movie about female spelunkers? Rosario Dawson, as it happens, certainly finds herself attacked in the dim light. Those aren’t real stalagmites around her, however, but their jock-predator counterparts: scented candles, meant to snare a sensible college girl with their faux sensitivity. Initially, Jared (Faust) seems like a catch, fumbling and complimentary. When he turns out, postdate, to be a meathead rapist, pushing Maya (Dawson) down into a lengthy scene of violent submission, Descent will test even the most seasoned horror viewer.
Unfortunately, the arty material that follows doesn’t merit such intestinal fortitude. Like Gaspar Noé’s gimmicky Irreversible, Talia Lugacy’s feature debut (cowritten with Brian Priest) scores style points on the back of a screaming victim; Maya’s plunge into becoming a catatonic dance-club attendee and blithe coke snorter hardly seems dramatically satisfying. Almost in response to her film’s lackadaisical second act, Lugacy suddenly becomes Gus Van Sant, ominously tracking the happy-go-lucky Jared down university corridors to a date with vengeance as predictable as that in Hostel: Part II. The imbalances of power that make up the ugly reality of sexual violence deserve a deeper examination than such Venus-flytrap endings—good enough for Straw Dogs, but not 35 years later.