Roughly a decade after a mysterious virus has turned much of the world’s population into zombies, a young girl (Camille Lynch) who is immune to both the virus and zombie attacks wanders across the blasted Chilean landscape. She hopes to reach the coast, where she believes she’ll be picked up by a schooner and protected by a giant octopus.
Aside from a glorious last couple minutes, Descendents is an absolutely awful movie. Made on the cheap and originally released in Chile four years ago, it’s a lame rip-off of [REC], 28 Days Later, and I Am Legend (both Richard Matheson’s original book and its numerous movie adaptations). This probably goes without saying, but it’s nowhere near as good as any of its, ahem, influences; it’s boring, more than twice as long as it needs to be, and sub-amateurish on virtually every possible level.
Ninety-five percent of this movie is an interminable slog. Camille wanders around, wanders around, and wanders around. She meets some more kids, they all wander around together. Zombies come out of nowhere. The military shows up out of nowhere, takes out the zombies before training their guns on the kids, firing like mad but never hitting the little kids who are always standing side-by-side or slowly running away. Roughly every other scene is a flashback, revealing how Camille and her mother came to live in a hospital (I think). There’s very little dialogue; Camille narrates most of the action, explaining the backstory and droning on and on about nonsense that’s inconsequential and uninteresting.
Director Jorge Olguín, who co-wrote the script with Carolina Garcia, has made a couple other movies, and I definitely won’t be running out to pick them up. I know it’s not cool to pick on a smalltime guy who poured his heart, soul, and some of his own cash into a movie, but this thing is pure, unadulterated crap. In addition to being boring and cheap (the effects look like they were lifted from cut scenes in a fifteen-year-old video game; the muzzle flashes and sprays of blood--all created in the digital realm--are horrendously executed), the movie’s internal logic is nonexistent. The virus takes four seconds to turn some people into zombies, while others can be exposed for several minutes with no ill effect. Camille and the other little moppets she encounters along the way are always searching for edible food and potable water, but they’re energetic as heck and covered in baby fat. The landscape is little more than ash and wreckage, but the kids somehow manage to stay clean.
You know how zombie movies are supposed to be scary, playing off the fear of being overwhelmed by an unstoppable, single-minded threat? Making children the protagonists of a zombie movie should compound that fear, right? Not here. Descendents makes it clear from the beginning that the zombies pose no danger whatsoever to Camille and her little friends. Anyone sporting the gill-like (foreshadowing!) gashes that are a physical manifestation of immunity to the virus and the zombies has nothing to worry about, so where’s the tension, the suspense? Is all of that shaky-cam and machine-gun editing Olguín employs intended to compensate? Is there any point in asking? Does anyone really care?
Olguín was advised he’d stand a better chance of getting the movie distributed overseas if he filmed it in English, and he listened. One or two aside, the actors speak phonetically or are dubbed. One’s just as bad as the other. The kids (whose acting skills lead me to believe their parents helped foot the bill for the movie) speak in a sleep-inducing monotone, and they have a tendency to dart through their lines, rarely pausing between sentences. The dubbing is just flat-out silly; all of the soldiers sound as if they joined the Chilean military after having served in the Mississippi National Guard.
Descendents runs 73 minutes, and it takes extended end credits (during which we get a confusing glimpse at the early days of the outbreak) and repeated use of a key flashback to pad it out to that length. Olguín recycles a scene where Camille’s mother falls victim to the virus and sends her daughter away, presenting it at least five times. It’s a terrible scene (Lynch’s blank expression does it no favors), but it does contain the best piece of unintentionally funny dialogue in the movie, which is delivered by the mother: “Stay away! Stay away! Come here, I need to tell you something.”
Given Chile’s bloody history, it’s clear that the sight of soldiers hunting down little kids is intended to be some sort of sociopolitical commentary. That’s the intent, but it’s not the reality. First of all (and this goes back to something I mentioned earlier), it’s hard to wonder what the meaning of it all is when the guys with the automatic weapons can’t seem to hit their diminutive, slow-moving targets. Secondly, I kept wondering why they were shooting at them to begin with. These kids obviously carry the key to creating a vaccine or cure, so why wipe them out? Garcia and Olguín never bother to explain it. Then again, they never bother to explain anything, which brings us to the biggest unexplained series of events, the movie’s climax.
Be warned: I’m about to spoil the hell out of this movie’s ending, so anyone who doesn’t want to know what goes down should find the nearest exit. Okay, so Camille and a couple more immune kids reach the coast. Smiles stretched across their faces, they race toward the water, the boat of their dreams sailing across the horizon. Two Apache helicopters suddenly come roaring over their heads. The Apaches fly out over the water and start to bank back toward the shore, preparing to make a strafing run. A humongous octopus suddenly surfaces under the helicopters, roaring in anger. The octopus thrusts its tentacles into the air, smashes one of the Apaches into a fireball, grabs the other and slams it into the drink. Camille and her friends beam with joy. They then notice that their fingers are now webbed, their skin a translucent blue. Camille turns and looks directly into the camera, revealing that the slits in her neck have morphed into gills.
Told you it was glorious. It’s also nonsensical, bat-crap crazy, and so unexpected I’m almost tempted to give Olguín and Garcia points for including it. It’s so damned nutty it almost makes the movie worth seeing. Where else are you going to see helicopters that make absolutely no noise and defy the laws of physics, a giant octopus that roars, and little kids who inexplicably turn into (get ready for what’s likely the nerdiest reference I’ve ever made) Namora, Lady Dorma, and Triton? But the final scene, as entertainingly insane as it is, can’t make up for the turgid awfulness of what comes before. But damn if it isn’t something. I don’t know what, but it’s definitely something.
Making a call on this disc’s 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is a little hard. After shooting the movie digitally, Olguín and cinematographer Juan Carpintero took the original digital files and drained much of the color, resulting in a flat, desaturated look. Aside from the aquatic blues in the ending, the only primaries you’ll find come in the form of digital blood spatters and burning skies; the palette is generally nothing more than dull grays and wan sepia tones. Blacks are middling, probably sapped somewhat by all of the tweaking. It’s an ugly presentation, but I get the feeling this is more intentional than not.
The sole audio option is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The narration (obviously spoken by someone other than Lynch; I don’t know who’s responsible, but she sounds enough like the actress who voiced Sally in the classic Peanuts television specials to give the movie a weird undertone) doesn’t sound too bad, the dialogue recorded during production sounds okay, the dubbed lines sound rather terrible.
The music doesn’t sound too bad. (Quick note about the music: This isn’t the first time I’ve heard an electronic score crib from Pink Floyd’s “On the Run,” but it is the first time I’ve heard a zombie movie employ a sickeningly sunny bubblegum-pop love song during the end credits [apparently without irony]). Effects are cheap and creaky. But here’s the thing: the mix here is doggedly aggressive--loud, active, and punchy, with a low end that just won’t quit. (Olguín also handled the sound design; he’d be wise to give up writing and directing and just stay behind the mixing console.)
English and Spanish subtitles are available.
The Making of Descendents (28 minutes) is a relatively interesting, fairly in-depth behind-the-scenes piece.
You also get four music videos for pieces of music used in the movie.
Closing things out is the movie’s trailer.
If you can find some way to take a look at the last scene, have at it. If not, stay far away.