Not to be confused with the quirky George Clooney family drama of the same name, post-apocalyptic Chilean horror film Descendents is now available on DVD from Lionsgate. Descendents is the third feature by Chilean director Jorge Olguin, whose 2000 film Angel Negro was heavily promoted by U.S. distributors Troma as supposedly “the first Chilean horror film.” Olguin’s latest attempts to rejuvenate the zombie apocalypse subgenre with bold and surrealistic stylist choices, including limited dialogue and a mostly-child cast, but despite apparently sincere urges to experiment, the film’s actual execution is too weak to carry off its ambitions, and it ends up feeling underdeveloped, lethargic, and purposely obtuse rather than innovative.
Descendents takes place in a loosely sketched post apocalyptic landscape, decimated by a mysterious airborne virus that reduces its sufferers to the rough equivalent of zombies. After escaping from a nightmarish government containment facility, an orphaned little girl named Camille is forced to navigate a toxic landscape overrun by sinister, gun-toting militias that have been hired by sequestered bands of survivors to purify the landscape and convert it back to habitability.
Though airborne contamination has made the air toxic to most, Descendents’ intrepid pre-adolescent protagonist is aided by a bizarre mutation that affects a marginal percentage of recent births – a set of mysterious, blood-oozing gills on either side of her throat make it possible for her to breathe outdoors without contracting the virus. Gradually encountering other free-floating serendipitous young mutants along the way, and continually engaged in the act of dodging maleficent mask-wearing government lackeys, her ultimate destination, as per her mother’s cryptic instruction, is the seashore, where mystic promises of maternal reunions and giant avenging octopi will allegedly, redemptively fulfill themselves.
It’s obvious Descendents is trying to cultivate a surrealistic, dreamlike tone, so criticizing its lack of distinctive characterization or back story is a little beside the point. The film deserves credit for taking risks, both stylistic and narrative, but the tone it strives for fails to coherently manifest, and instead it ends up feeling like a laconic and poorly coordinated short film that was painstakingly extended to reach feature length. The endless reiteration of scenes and plot points might arguably have been calculated to create an echoing, atmospheric effect, but instead the movie feels alternately redundant and underdeveloped, either laconically plodding along with no expressive purpose at all, or incessantly repeating factual information irrelevant to the sense of tone.
Lionsgate’s disc includes a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with Olguin and various other contributors, as well as detailing some of the technical details of the production, particularly the CG effects. There’s also a collection of music videos for punk and metal songs featured on the film’s soundtrack. As a horror movie, Descendents gets in a few good gore set pieces, but nothing really spectacular. The cinematography is often striking considering the movie’s budget, and some of its rough ideas could potentially have been fleshed out more thoroughly to achieve a more engaging finished product. As it stands, Descendents’ awkwardly unconventional execution and overreliance on child performers gives it an unfinished, diffuse quality that tragically disappoints rather than inspiring.