The Descent is a complex and fantastical tale that traverses the precarious aftermath of trauma, how these events shape us and our realities.

Follow a sister as she dives headfirst into the distorted mind of her unstable brother and the world he has created. ‘The Descent’ brings us through incredible and varying visual settings as the story develops into an unusual harrowing nightmare. For the director Brandon Mercer, ‘The Descent’ was created during strange times and, as such, a strange film was unavoidable. He says it sits in a grey area, an uncomfortable in-between—the same dissonant state that has encompassed much of the last four years of his life. To learn more about the film’s deep roots, we spoke to Brandon about the foundations, challenges and outcomes:

Shot from The Descent

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

This story was created in an unusual way as it was initially shot as a fashion film for a large publication. However, it quickly changed course as my lifelong battle with depression and anxiety was brought to a breaking point only a few days before filming. After principal photography I walked away from both this project and the fashion industry to focus on mental health. Strangely enough this film became a non-volitional means of coping, and provided a subconscious road map for all that I would struggle with in the journey ahead. In turn the narrative grew and evolved over the course of the next three years as I searched for a solid foundation within myself. So, its inspiration was not singular, but a compassionate byproduct of confronting trauma, finding the strength to continue living and the search for self-love.

Tell us about the different settings and locations used in the film. How did you want the environment to connect with the story?

I often assign complex and intangible ideas to physical structures as a means of understanding them – so in reality, the locations were characters themselves with the aim of providing tangible mirrors for the internal dialogue of each character. Dealing with grief and trauma is never simple. Initially, there is often denial and repression that attempt to squander the harder emotions bubbling under the surface. Because of that, I wanted the beginning to feel like an idyllic, almost limitless, expanse bathed in golden light. Then, as the cracks of this perfect reality begin to show, that facade gives way to a darker space that grows more and more claustrophobic and uncomfortable – as is so often the case living with trauma. You have to not shy away from the darkest parts of yourself, and confront them, to find the other side.

Shot from The Descent

What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

The underwater portion of the film was actually really difficult to film. The low budget nature of this project didn’t allow us any amenities so it was accomplished on not only a wing and a prayer, but with a very patient DP and actress who I am eternally grateful for.

What has this film taught you about filmmaking?

Because of the strange way this piece was created, it became an experimental foray into narrative film making. It taught me the importance of listening to yourself and the existential questions that drive you. But more importantly, it showed me the significance of failure and the beautiful humanity in the imperfect. This is the first piece I’ve ever created that I love for not only the things I got “right,” but all I got “wrong.”

What do you hope people will take away from The Descent?

Ultimately, that it’s ok to make something solely for yourself, and just simply because you need to. You are strong enough to face the dark and what lies on the other side is worth living for.

What are your favorite films?

This is honestly a question I dread as I usually default to Pan’s Labyrinth, after frantically trying to remember the name of any other film I’ve seen and been inspired by. In reality, it depends on the day you ask. I’ve fallen in love with many films and genres for the worlds they have immersed me in and the questions they have left me with – but a few are: It Follows, Coraline, The Shining, Shutter Island, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Her, Children of Men, Swallow, Mysterious Skin, Arrival and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

What are your favorite short films?

I genuinely love shorts that leave you feeling uneasy at the end with a change or shift in perspective that is almost forced upon you and allows you to grapple with something deep and unnervingly human. I found that to be true for many shorts, some of my favorites being, L’accordeur by Olivier Treiner, Black Swell (Featured on FS) by Jake Honig and I’ll End Up In Jail by Alexandre Dostie.