Oh no, not another zombie film! This franchise has been exhausted by remakes and rehashes, sequels and prequels, and now this. Before its release, this film built itself up as being the first big Chilean zombie horror, owing some of that reputation to an impressive marketing campaign. Unfortunately, Descendents doesn’t live up to this reputation, not by a long shot. Since its (very limited) release, all surrounding underground buzz has fizzled out, leaving audiences underwhelmed and disappointed.
The film begins with a series of finger paintings of happy families being torn apart by hoards of zombies-that-are-not-called-zombies. A young girl, Camille, narrates over the animated sequence, spoon-feeding the audience a cack-handed explanation of how a group of children have miraculously been born with the immunity of infection, and without the infected zombies lusting after their flesh.
The audience follows Camille as she stumbles through a devastated and war-torn land, where, it soon becomes clear, a strong military presence still lurks; threatening to capture and kill any and all remaining citizens – including children. As the film progresses, we learn, through a series of flashbacks, that Camille was once accompanied by her mother who has since died.
Camille eventually finds a group of vagabond children, and together they journey to the seaside, culminating in a bizarre – and frankly ridiculous – finale…
Unfortunately, the film’s problems begin from the word ‘go’. After being asphyxiated by a dumbed-down explanation of events thus far, the audience is thrown into the opening scenes of a zombie outbreak. Smash cut after smash cut tinged with cheesy and ill-fitting music will leave you feeling confused, tired and begging for the shaky hand-cam to end. Whilst it is the fashion for these types of films, namely zombie horrors, to apply these techniques on-screen, Olguín appears a little too eager and overuses them to the point of no return. An abundance of filters and colour tones clearly try to bestow slickness to the appearance on-screen, but, ultimately, the overall effect is confusing and sickly. There are too many visual and aural themes to marry together, making Descendents feel like an amateur production.
It will either leave you in tears of laughter, or wanting to claw your face out from embarrassment and confusion.
It is impossible to talk about this film without discussing the ending. Or, at least something which appears in the ending. A giant squid. It’s best to leave it at that. Suffice to say, it will either leave you in tears of laughter, or wanting to claw your face out from embarrassment and confusion. For a film which clearly has a limited budget, one would have thought Olguín would put it to good use, instead of spending his cash on bad CGI and other gimmicks.
Lynch puts in a respectable performance as Camille, the fragile and quiet little girl who stumbles from one crisis into another. However, Olguín does a poor job of directing her – and all the other child actors, too. Instead of treating them as intelligent beings, Olguín assumes they are unable to formulate or express ideas in any other way except finger paintings. The true crime, though, is trying to justify a badly written and uncreative script by passing it off as being told through a child’s perspective – as though all children are incredibly dim-witted and impervious to the world around them. In fact, most of the cringe-worthy explanations given to the audience are barely needed, as Olguín does a good job of sewing the past and present narrative threads together. Had he harnessed the power of silence, and stuck to the good old fashioned rule of ‘show don’t tell’, then perhaps the film would have thrived under his control.
One of the redeeming features of Descendents is the relationship between Camille and her mother. The story of mother and daughter brings a soft edge the film, contrasting vividly with the violence and hysteria of the present day’s narrative. The scenes they have together offer respite from an otherwise manic plot, and simply allow the actors to explore the psychology of what it must be like to live in a tormented world. These are the scenes least interrupted with fiddly bits of editing; instead, the camera is allowed to roll, and this is when the handy-cam finds its home. The audience become quiet voyeurs and spectators, catching glimpses of a touching parent-child dynamic, which emphasises Camille’s isolation and loneliness in the present.
With a clearly limited budget, it is probably not advisable to spend the majority of it animating a giant squid. Unfortunately, this is not the only problem the film faces. With poorly-directed actors, there aren’t many convincing performances for the audience to focus on, except for the rare moments when Lynch is left alone to shine. Any attempt made to create themes of horror and tension is consistently foiled by manic editing and ill-fitting music, making Descendents a disappointing film indeed.
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