Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Descendant (2003)

Imaginary history lesson: Eddie Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher” was based on a real family named Usher and ruined the family name for generations. To reciprocate, one Usher murdered Poe’s Virginia, and cursed Poe (Arie Verveen) and all of his descendants. Seeing as Poe didn’t have any children, I don’t see much of a point in this curse, but hey. The film will of course pretend people descended from the man’s larger family are indeed his descendants, demonstrating early on what kind of a film it’s going to be.

Today (well, in 2002), Poe’s “descendant” Ethan (Jeremy London) has a career as a popular horror author of books which mostly seem to consist of mangled Poe quotes, bad-mouthing old Eddie while coasting on the Poe name. He is also, as we will quickly learn, rather crazy, having shouting matches with a hallucinatory version of Eddie and making all the bug-eyed crazy faces you want. Alas, he’s supposed to be a dark, charming sort of crazy, and so Ann Hedgrow (Katherine Heigl), also a far descendant of a man without any children, falls for her very distant cousin at once, as does he for her, when they meet at a Q&A session. Well, or he might just like the sex and living in the huge house she just inherited from her mother. Not surprisingly, a series of murders starts right about the time Ethan hits the small town Ann lives in. Who, oh who, might the murderer be? The guy who shouts at Poe? Ann’s best friend with an eternal crush on her, Deputy John Burns (Nick Stabile)? Ann’s lunatic brother with incestuous hopes Kiefer (Matt Farnsworth)? It’s not very difficult to guess, as is the rest of the plot.

Descendant is the sad, embarrassing end to Del Tenney’s attempt at a return to films, co-directed with Kermit Christman, and mostly pretty damn bad even if you ignore the whole idiotic set-up with the real-life Ushers or the point nobody involved in the production seems to have had much of a clue about Poe or his work (or if they did, didn’t bother putting that in). That’s bad, of course, but I probably would have gotten over it in a film that started from a bad place and went anywhere interesting or entertaining.

Instead, you get a barely tolerable Gothic Romance movie that plays up the stupidity and uselessness of its heroine whereas it would have been quite a bit more entertaining and interesting if it had gone in the totally opposite direction; of course, then the people involved would have had to come up with reasons for a competent heroine to get into trouble via love. And yes, the script: it’s stupid, it’s obvious, it misses the best set-ups for Poe-nods that would actually work, it shows no imagination for the macabre whatsoever, and does tend to meander, too.

There’s not much on the acting side that could redeem anything here either: Heigl is bland, London chews the scenery in the least charming and most joyless way imaginable, and Stabile is wearing a uniform. Christman’s and Tenney’s direction is mostly as bland as their heroine, though it does reach the heights (depths) of inadvertent hilarity from time to time through the virtues of awkward staging and just plain bad decisions. The grand finale is indeed a bit of a side-splitter, but that’s really the most entertainment I got out of Descendant.

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