Depending on your revenge story preferences, the brutally pretentious "Descent" is either a payback flick with an agonizingly formless middle, or a soul-darkening head trip bracketed by a crude vengeance tale. Mostly, though, it's indie provocation trapped between shock and blah.
Initially, the story is an all-too-familiar one: smart, boy-wary female college student trusts the wrong frat guy. Maya (Rosario Dawson) may not see what is unfortunately obvious for any seasoned moviegoer -- that persistent wooer Jared (Chad Faust) is a shifty creep -- but it doesn't diminish the real-time ugliness of the sexual violence Jared commits after a date of wine, food and psychoanalytic smooth talk.
Where "Descent" earns its title as a creative omen is in its aftermath drama, in which first-time feature director Talia Lugacy (who co-wrote the movie with Brian Priest) chooses hyper-stylized movie affectations over the vivid human details of a rape's aftermath. Instead we get an incoherent, blackout-hued slog through an underworld club scene where a drifting, dead-eyed Maya befriends a ripped, tattooed and protective DJ named Adrian (Marcus Patrick), who digs his dance floor power.
Newly empowered by this proximity to a different kind of punishing male power, Maya enters Act 3 -- I mean, the fall term -- armed with gruesome, table-turning plans for Jared straight out of a penitentiary handbook. Lugacy has no intention of making the unflinching final 10 minutes of "Descent" a revenger's paradise: Never has a beautifully framed solitary tear on a woman's cheek seemed so ham-fistedly accusatory. We get it: payback at what cost? Rather than a multifaceted take on a woman abused and rebuilt, "Descent" presents Dawson as a victimized pawn in a muddle.
"Descent." MPAA rating: NC-17 for a brutal rape. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869.