Nick Redfern: "The Descent" (2005) Could Help Us Understand Underground Bigfoot. Or Not. Whatever.
As someone who produces a blog post every day, I can sympathize with the difficulty of finding new material to write about. But it seems that fringe science writer Nick Redfern’s writer’s block is getting the better of him. His recent articles at Mysterious Universe have become increasingly pointless exercises in rehashing and recycling. But yesterday’s article on horror movies and Bigfoot has to be one of Redfern’s most ridiculous pieces yet. And to top it off, it made me feel old not long before my upcoming birthday. The Descent (2005), a film about a group of young women attacked by humanoid creatures while spelunking, is now an old movie from another time? Where do the decades go?
Regular readers will remember that the failure to find Bigfoot anywhere in the United States has led to three speculative hypotheses about where the imaginary ape might be hiding: (a) aboard a flying saucer, (b) in a parallel universe that intersects with ours only in backwoods locales, and (c) in a continent-wide network of underground caverns that no one can prove exist.
Redfern’s opening, overwritten with unnecessary redundancy, sets the stage for the silliness that follows:
Given the fact there are suspicions that Bigfoot’s uncanny ability to elude us on almost every occasion is due to it being a creature which may spend most of its time living in caverns and caves, The Descent is a movie that Bigfoot enthusiasts should watch and think about carefully. There may be more truth in it than anyone might guess.
Anyone except Nick Redfern, who seems to think, like Helena Blavatsky before him, that fiction is hiding truths from the Bigfoot-Nephilim-space alien dimension.
I want to skip ahead to the point, but I can’t let this disaster of a sentence from his plot summary pass by unnoted: “Unknown to the rest of the girls, Juno has decided to have them investigate a completely unknown cave system that – literally – no-one knows about.” As someone who makes plenty of writing errors churning out a daily blog, I can appreciate that not every sentence published online will be immortal artistry, but the redundancy and illogic of the sentence is breathtaking. He says “unknown” in three different ways, and doesn’t notice that if the caves are known to Juno, then they can’t be “literally” unknown to anyone!
The majority of Redfern’s piece is a plot summary of The Descent, which fills space while contributing nothing to his allegation that the movie has relevance to Bigfoot hunting. On the other hand, his summary did manage to make me feel old and also annoy me in my capacity as a horror critic: “Unlike so many of today’s watered down horror movies – that feel the need to provide some sense of hope for the characters and a degree of a happy ending – The Descent does nothing of the sort.” Today’s movies? Was 2005 so long ago now that we’ve passed into a whole new era? My book The Cult of Alien Gods was released that year.
But who would argue that “today’s” horror movies are watered down by hope? If anything, films since 2000 have been darker, more nihilistic, and more violent than practically anything that came before them. The Decent was part of a wave of extremely violent and very dark films like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) that asked viewers to find enjoyment in, essentially, rooting for the characters to suffer and die, earning them the moniker “torture porn.” It’s true that the torture porn wave burned itself out on its own excess, but it would be difficult to argue that the much reduced horror genre that followed the collapse of torture porn has entirely moved into new and more hopeful territory. It’s important to remember that even torture porn movies left some characters alive, while later films, like Drag Me to Hell (2009), had no trouble with dark endings.
The line between hopeful and hopeless is not clear-cut, and The Descent isn’t a stable text that allows us to draw that line clearly. The U.S. theatrical version of the film features an ending in which one of the characters seems to escape her fate, while the international version and the DVD release contain a darker, hopeless ending. According to Entertainment Weekly in 2006, American audiences couldn’t handle the “über-hopeless” ending of the international cut. Lionsgate executive Tim Palen said “It’s a visceral ride, and by the time you get to the ending you’re drained. [Director Neil] Marshall had a number of endings in mind when he shot the film, so he was open [to making a switch].” Both versions of the story exist simultaneously, with the U.S. broadcast version continuing to air on TV with an ending in which one character escapes.
These facts should undercut Redfern’s argument that 2005 was a uniquely pure moment for nihilistic horror.
He then goes on to compare the cannibal creatures that consume the characters of The Descent to the bloodthirsty underground Morlocks of H. G. Wells’s 1895 novel The Time Machine. (He apparently knows the story only from the movies since he describes it as including nuclear war.) Yet because Redfern is a fringe writer and a shallow thinker, he fails to recognize the broader motif that these creatures represented, and continued to represent in horror fiction like H. P. Lovecraft’s 1922 serial “The Lurking Fear” (also about cannibals in caves), and in more popular (if less horrific) form in The Mole People (1956). These stories have degenerate humans or humanoids living below ground because they represent atavism, presenting in fictional form the fear of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Wells made this more or less explicit in arguing that both the terrifying Morlocks and their more graceful aboveground counterparts, the Eloi, evolved from humanity. Lovecraft was more concerned about the risk of reversion, the failure of a sort of teleological view of progress. Here’s how he described his underground cannibals:
The object was nauseous; a filthy whitish gorilla thing with sharp yellow fangs and matted fur. It was the ultimate product of mammalian degeneration; the frightful outcome of isolated spawning, multiplication, and cannibal nutrition above and below the ground; the embodiment of all the snarling chaos and grinning fear that lurk behind life.
The Descent is not, perhaps, as invested in making a deep point about evolution or regression but nonetheless the film’s creatures capture the same atavistic feeling as Lovecraft. In 2005, director Neil Marshall said of his monsters in The Northern Echo that they were intended to be cavemen who failed to evolve into modern humans. “I wanted to have this very feral, very primal species living underground, but I wanted to make them human. I didn’t want to make them aliens because humans are the scariest things.” Despite this, Redfern prefers to read the monsters as analogous to Bigfoot, accidentally stumbling upon a truth: that Bigfoot stories are really stories about human beings and their relationship to the wild and untamed natural world they try and often fail to transcend. Redfern fails to notice this even though he rants about how “we are not the superior beings we arrogantly assume ourselves to be.”
Redfern concludes by hoping that humans will someday find Bigfoot’s network of underground caverns and tunnels. Surely, of all the fringe hypotheses, that one ought to be easy enough to test. Tunnels don’t move and can’t vanish when you’re not looking at them. So where are they? Redfern doesn’t know and, to judge by this movie review masquerading as insight into Bigfoot, doesn’t care.
Redfern’s article is an embarrassment by any standard: a movie review ten years too late married to unexamined fringe speculation without connecting analysis or any real attempt to deal with the material beyond the facile equation of “looks like, therefore is.” Actually, not even that. With the conditional tense Redfern employs we should instead call it “looks like, therefore might be.”
4/8/2015 07:41:51 am
To be truthful, the movie that shows what Bigfoots are all about is "Harry and the Hendersons".
4/8/2015 07:46:41 am
You are casting aspersions on the Six-Million Dollar Man!
4/8/2015 07:45:46 am
Now are these caverns the same ones that Caddie/Ogopogo/Nessie uses to get from offshore Vancouver Island to Lake Okanagan & to Loch Ness? If so then bigfoot must be good at holding its breath.
4/8/2015 08:00:41 am
You're completely right about the creatures. They are also strong enough to climb across ceilings, yet a human female can wrestle with them. And they evolved to navigate by sound and smell, yet they cannot detect someone breathing and sweating a few inches from their face.
4/9/2015 12:37:16 am
In planning a Scotland vacation, I told my 4 year old that Mommy and Daddy would be visiting Loch Ness and maybe we'd see that dinosaur that lives in the lake.
4/9/2015 08:27:02 am
That is ADORABLE!!! :D
4/8/2015 07:50:37 am
Philosophically, “looks like, therefore might be” strikes me as less problematic than “looks like, therefore is”, but I agree it seems like an odd and pointless thing to base that sort of article around.
4/8/2015 07:57:43 am
"The Decent was part of a wave of extremely violent and very dark films like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) that asked viewers to find enjoyment in, essentially, rooting for the characters to suffer and die, earning them the moniker “torture porn.”"
4/8/2015 10:49:39 am
"I do find it strange that Neil Marshall says that he meant for the monsters to be primitive humans. I always saw them as utterly INhuman in everything but basic primate physiology and thought that was a big part of what made them work so well."
4/8/2015 12:31:33 pm
So have the comments been fixed, or what?
4/8/2015 12:33:54 pm
I don't know if that was his intention, as opposed to him thinking post factum that claiming a variation on the theme of "humans are the real monsters" would make him sound profound.
4/8/2015 02:04:17 pm
I don't think Marshall is a one hit wonder, he's had some other successes. He made Dog Soldiers (2002), which was a very interesting and entertaining werewolf movie set in the Scottish Highlands. He also directed two episodes of Game of Thrones, specifically Blackwater and The Watchers on the Wall, both of which are among the most popular episodes of the series.
4/8/2015 06:35:40 pm
"I don't know if that was his intention, as opposed to him thinking post factum that claiming a variation on the theme of "humans are the real monsters" would make him sound profound."
4/9/2015 08:30:17 am
Shane, I'm an equal-opportunity sand-bagger. You should know that by now :P
4/9/2015 04:49:24 am
It would have been better as porn... The Dickscent. A bunch of girls go underground and get nasty with lizard men.
4/9/2015 08:30:49 am
Paging Scotty Roberts to this thread :)
4/8/2015 10:36:10 am
"The object was nauseous; a filthy whitish gorilla thing with sharp yellow fangs and matted fur. It was the ultimate product of mammalian degeneration; the frightful outcome of isolated spawning, multiplication, and cannibal nutrition above and below the ground; the embodiment of all the snarling chaos and grinning fear that lurk behind life."
4/12/2015 02:38:24 pm
Hmmm. Lovecraft says the filthy whitish gorilla thing was "nauseous"? Poor thing, an upset stomach must make it extra hard to be properly monster-ish.
4/8/2015 03:25:24 pm
Those tunnels remind me of a novel writen by Italian fiction author Emilio Salgary. El Tesoro de los Incas (I read the spanish version when I was young) describes a cavern system that conects Mamouth Cave to lake Titicaca . In the story, an American enginner and companions travel this underground cave system in a steam boat. I don't recall them seeing Bigfoot, but that doesn't mean they didn't. Salgari not mentioning it clearly demonstrates a cover up. Could this be the same cave system Redfern is talking about? Could it be that Emilio Salgari's novel was based in "fact"? I wonder!
4/8/2015 04:02:24 pm
Some of the fringe folks that are on Coast to Coast AM are talking more and more about the Ant People in native American legends as being gray aliens.
4/8/2015 04:09:02 pm
This is ridiculous
4/8/2015 04:13:49 pm
4/8/2015 04:34:13 pm
I had this theory that the Big Foot legend was triggered by North American Native ritual habit of wearing grizzly head wear, but now I see that some cults are just born out of fiction that does not even pretend to be prophetic.
4/8/2015 09:38:17 pm
"The Descent" helps folks understand the idea behind Bigfoot travelling the country, undetected, through the use of underground cave systems. Oh boy.
4/9/2015 01:18:50 am
No, zombie films are supposed to help folks avoid becoming zombies, aimlessly wandering through shopping malls etc.
4/12/2015 08:29:21 am
thought you might enjoy this (watch out Jason and Redfern, these, er, people, might sue you guys for your remarks!)
4/13/2015 05:25:09 am
I thought a plot twist in the descent is that there were no monsters and it was one of them who'd snapped?
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