Descendant (2003)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2011


As much as I enjoy Valentine, it does take a whole 10-15 minutes to get around to killing off Katherine Heigl, so at first I was pretty impressed with Descendant for killing her in the first 4 minutes. As the film was from 2003, it was conceivable that she could be dispatched for good this soon; her career was sort of on a downward spiral after Roswell went off the air until it was revived by Grey's Anatomy. But alas, she plays two characters, so a few minutes later we flash forward 200 years (or whatever it was) and meet her REAL character, one who probably won't die at all let alone in a timely manner.

To be fair, back when this movie was produced I actually liked the lass; she was attractive and made a couple of horror movies, and her character fell for the dorky guy on Roswell which was endearing to me, a dorky guy who watched the show with a girl who never followed suit (sigh). But once her career really took off she became one of those actresses who you never hear anything nice about; slamming the writing on her show, dismissing Judd Apatow, etc. She also left horror long behind in favor of horrendous rom-coms like The Ugly Truth, and thus now I can barely stand to look at her.

But she's actually the least of this movie's problems, which is yet another goddamn real estate plot worked into a very thin horror story. Seems Heigl and her brother, a no-gooder who seemingly wants to ignore the whole "we're related" thing when it comes to their relationship, are the descendants of some guy who fucked Poe over back in the day, and now a descendant of Poe (Jeremy London, horribly miscast and thus inadvertently helping make the movie somewhat entertaining) is seeking to wipe out their bloodline so that he can inherit some bit of property. Riveting!

The horror stuff comes from his slasher-esque tendency to kill everyone BUT her, going after her brother, her best friend, her shrink... you get the drill. The kill scenes aren't too bad (I actually thought this was a TV movie) but because they inexplicably try to hide the fact that London is the bad guy (it's obvious from the first time we meet him, when he slams Poe's work - obviously not a hero character for a horror film) they aren't as interesting as they could be. Then we also get a bit of a psychological/ghost spin on things as he is constantly mocked/egged on by the spirit of Poe. Thankfully he doesn't play Poe as well, but the other guy isn't much better. So in short, it's a more dramatic approach to the material that would require great actors to pull it off, and instead they got these folks.

As is customary for any modern Poe-based movie that isn't specifically tied to one of his stories, we get a bunch of random "shout outs" to his more famous stuff. The House of Usher elements actually make sense in the confines of the story, but by the time he's curiously swinging a blade of some sort over (co-writer) William Katt's character ("Pit and the Pendulum") and walling up another character like in the "Cask of Amontillado", it gets a bit silly, even for this already rather ludicrous movie.

Speaking of ludicrous, this movie has one of the most inept chase scenes ever filmed. Heigl manages to escape London's grasp and run out of the house, driving away. There's only one road to their isolated house, but somehow he manages to get ahead of her and park his car across the road. Does she ram him? Turn around and figure out a way around (hey, he clearly found one)? Nope, she stops and runs away at a very un-frantic speed. And then it gets sillier - she manages to run right to the spot where he has propped up her mother's body in the woods. What are the odds? But it gets better - at that moment her brother, thought dead, resurfaces and momentarily plays hero. It's like they took elements from three separate scenes and put them together despite the fact that it wouldn't make any goddamn sense and serve only to annihilate the film's already tenuous credulity.

I also had to laugh at the box art, which uses what appears to be a red carpet shot of Heigl and adds the tagline "True Beauty Can Be Lethal", which hasn't a goddamn thing to do with the movie and suggests that she is the killer more than anything else. I briefly considered that it might be a Poe quote that they tossed in, but when I Googled the phrase the first thing that came up was the IMDb page for this obscure, unloved movie, so I guess not.

In some ways I feel bad for Stephen King; Poe was lucky enough to die before he had to see his work misrepresented in junk like this. But you gotta figure that King has at least caught some of Children of the Corn 6 or Mangler 2 on cable. I know he claims that the movies are separate and all that, but still, his name's on it. Also, he's sober now - Poe would have the option of chugging another bottle of cognac if he was forced or tricked into watching Descendant.

What say you?


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