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Totem of the Depraved
by Nick Zedd
(Paperback from Amazon)
. "Descent"

First off, the people whose creation this is need to have their heads examined if they think anyone will see this fantasy-revenge phoniness as more than someone's simplistic idea of drama. Anyone who doesn't get that the concoction's only reason for being is so that a victim of rape can get even isn't paying attention.

What an the idea. You can't fight the system that doesn't dispense your idea of justice so transpose it to a movie audience and punish them. What are we supposed to do, write our congressmen that rape victims aren't treated fairly? If I did write my congresswomen, it would be to suggest putting the makers of such sophomorically deceptive fiction away for awhile, like in a correctional facility for self-indulgent writers without a clue about consistency of character or where to draw the line of taste.

A gorgeous coed like Maya (Dawson), has heard almost every line in the world, so when smoothie Jared (Chad Faust) stops her at a party as she's about to leave, he has to come up with something creative in order to penetrate the lady's natural defenses against your typical college womanizer. He manages to convince her that there's some thought cells in his brain if not dimensions to his values, and the college beauty winds up a first date in his apartment, on the sofa, kissing. But that's no reason to be raped when she makes it clear she wants him to stop.

Unfortunately, (and I may be giving too much away here, so read no further if you'd rather avoid a possible spoiler) revenge for this act is what the entire film is constructed to achieve, and nothing else.

The subsequent events in Maya's life suggest some kind of descent into a depraved sub-culture, but it's a wan and completly unconvincing effort on the part of the writer. Against type and character, Maya suddenly drops into a milieu of rampant sexuality, tastes of lesbianism, drugs, orgiastic free love and, one supposes, a spectrum of behavioral taboos that thrives in the lower reaches of night life and club society.

What gives her entree' into such a world are her looks and an unclear relationship with Adrian (Marcus Patrick), a ripped nightclub D.J. with pecs to die for. Maya doesn't do that; she just goes where director Talia Lugacy and Brian Priest's silly screenplay tells her to in order to set up the notion that this smart, academically inclined lady will be capable of the depravity that the filmmaker has in store for us.

Her "descent" amounts to lots of smoke and darkness, bodies writhing (with Maya not really participating), suggestive dialogue and the fuzzy notion that Adrian is more than just a D.J. He's the super-stud with the upper hand commanding all he observes in the misty atmosphere while guiding Maya into a life she's about as receptive to as a dog in a catbox. Despite a total lack of credibility, the story goes on like George Bush ignoring his shrinking poll numbers and lame duck limitations. These filmmakers, after providing no real evidence of a character transformation in Maya, go on as though their audience has bought into it, which it hasn't.

What is accomplished, however, is our fascination with Dawson's presence, and the unrealized hope that her story will add up to something that we might yet wrap our arms and understanding around. Alas, it's not to be.

Finally, in the last act, our old friend Jared (you remember, the rapist/deceiver?) shows up for a class test under the watchful eye of the P.A., Maya (still the scholar despite the nightlife). When she calls his name as the class is leaving and accuses him of cheating, this classy guy turns it around by accusing her of wanting to be alone with him again. Of course. Why not? Maya goes for it like a black widow spider and soon lures him into removing all his clothes and submit to being chained down to a bed.

After playing with his mind (and no other part) and keeping him baited with promises of pleasure ahead, the trap is sprung with the appearance of a friend who has been enlisted as her surrogate redeemer and payback machine.

Faust's rendering of smug arrogance is so bad it's very good. The quality of his portrayal pays off in the tie-up scene where only a guy with an abiding conviction of his uncontestable appeal to women -- which Faust conveys with every swaggering step -- could make credible a willingness to go along with absolute submission.

I read this film as a desperately inept attempt to appeal to audiences that get a thrill out of graphic degeneracy... lovers of indecency and depravity... and anyone who might get off on sexual punishment as a payback mechanism, however extreme and nausea-producing. There are plenty of such individuals out there as we know from the lingering interest we see in "irreversible," so maybe this content will fill theatres. I just hope they're not the ones I'd be likely to attend.

The involvement of Dawson as one of the producers may cause some fans to question their allegiences but one hopes that filling in a time gap in her scehdule trumped her better judgement. Because of the highly creditable impression her previous work has earned, I'd rather believe she wasn't a passionate subscriber to the message and tastelessness involved here. She is one of four producers and sixteen who take some kind of producer credit, which usually means investors. Lots of cuts to go around if there's any money in salacious material masquerading as a serious endeavor.

The greater majority of my readers will want to avoid this hollow fabrication in the pursuit of someone's sick idea of redemption. I didn't pay to see it... but I want my wasted time back.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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