Descendents is the long-awaited zombie film from Chile’s terror-maestro Jorge Olguin (Angel Negro, Eternal Blood). Set in a dystopian world reminiscent of 28 Weeks Later (2007) and Children Of Men (2006), it hopes to emulate the success of both – or is it just another brainless zombie movie?
A mysterious virus has decimated the world’s population, turning the dead into zombies which feast on the flesh of the living. With cities now under martial law, the army takes to the street, hunting zombies and exterminating any humans they suspect are infected.
A small band of immune children, united by a bizarre recurring dream and led by 9-year-old Camille, set out for the sea, fleeing the un-dead and the blood-crazed soldiers, carrying mankind’s last hope. Can they make it to safety, and, more importantly, will there actually be an octopus waiting there to help them?
Avoiding gore for the most part, in favour of a plodding story in which our whippersnappers trudge about, Descendents has far too many flaws to make it worthwhile viewing – mainly the fact that Camille is given little to do but wander around and be helpless – but it delivers a surprisingly mental final scene that definitely needs to be witnessed, no matter how hard it is, or how long it takes to get there.
The performances from the children are truly awful: Camille’s voiceover lacks naturalism and is clearly the result of somebody shoving the script in front of her five minutes before the recording. The other children are so wooden that when they arrive at the playground midway through a turgid storyline, some of the kids are used as climbing apparatus. As for the zombies, one of them is ripped straight out of Ringu (1998), with long dark hair covering her cheap make-up, and body movements that are freaky but forgettable.
Using some bleak locations and washing most of the colour from the screen, Olguin gives the film a desolate feel that impresses despite some obvious budgetary limitations, and the few glimpses of this baron wasteland are welcome respite from the inferior acting. He handles the action fairly well, too, although the CGI blood-splattering across the camera lens every five minutes isn’t as clever as he thinks it is, and instead distances the viewer from Camille’s world.
Even when some of the kids are shot and killed, the shock factor is as unnoticeable as the wildlife.
Descendents just isn’t substantial enough in storytelling or sense of inspiration either, relying on repetitive flashbacks to add depth and back-story, and it isn’t fun or thrilling enough to rival the zombie movies it tries to emulate. Only the military offer any real threat, yet Olguin still insists on chucking a load of zombies into the mix, even though we’re already well aware that they can’t be bothered to attack the children. Why they refuse to do so is never clearly explained, so unless the children are fleeing from helicopters flying overhead, or a solider is seduced by a member of the undead that’s seen too many vampire movies, the set-pieces lack tension.
Even when some of the kids are shot and killed, the shock factor is as unnoticeable as the wildlife. And yet, at one point, we discover that not every species was destroyed, which leads us to a scene in which our child protagonist plays with a worm, pulling it out from the ground before eating it. Nice one, Camille. Another species succumbs to extinction. If that wasn’t nauseating enough, the hand-held camera-work is, along with too much frenetic cutting when the action heats up and yet more unnecessary flashbacks – even at the half-way mark, Descendents has little road left to travel. Fortunately, though, Olguin has a plan.
Despite the constant foreshadowing, nothing prepares you for the final shot, and although it won’t be ruined here (not entirely), it’s safe to say that if the auteur stuck his neck out a bit further and more often, and veered further down the bonkers route, this movie would’ve demanded far more attention than what it shall rightfully receive. If anyone has seen the movie Altitude (2010) – and if not, why not? – you’ll know which direction this film is heading. Obviously, such a dose of fantasy enables the children to pray for a brighter future, so its inclusion isn’t gimmicky, but it also reminds the viewer how much more interesting this journey could have been if throughout we were subjected to more childhood imaginings. Instead, the director clings on to a world we’ve seen a thousand times before, on screen and outside our windows, and it’s just not that much fun to look at.
Despite a few nifty visuals and an excellent final scene, Descendents feels like a wasted journey; perhaps it’s due to budgetary constraints, or to the cast of wooden child performers, but the viewer is left waiting for something exciting to happen for far too long, resulting in an unstimulating zombie movie with no bite, just bitterness.
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