Directed by Amat Escalante
Country: Mexico / other
The work of Mexican director Amat Escalante has been considered as provocative, violent, and emotionally disturbing. This was mirrored in “Heli”, with which he won Cannes' best director, and it’s easily observable again in his latest feature “The Untamed”, a risky piece of cinema that borrows some influence from Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession”. It gave him another reputed best-director prize, this time in Venice.
Embracing that similar depressing atmosphere as in his previous work, Escalante raises expectation for this one as he adds elements of sci-fi and erotica to pepper a solid family drama. This combination, not always successful but undeniably trendy, should bring him some more followers. Still, this disquieting canvas painted in dark hues may repulse the most sensitive ones through the gloominess that encircles the story from minute one.
The film, written by Escalante and Gibran Portela, follows two different stories that converge at some point. Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) is a dedicated mother of two who lost sexual attraction for her knavish husband, Angel (Jesús Meza). She keeps showing signs of tiredness due to his improper ways, heavy drinking, as well as possessive behavior. In fact, she has every reason to be concerned because Angel, who adopts a homophobic posture in front of her, is having a homosexual affair with Alejandra’s nurse brother, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). However, the latter is willing to discontinue these dishonorable encounters, especially after he meets Veronica (Simone Bucio), a young woman in need of special treatment due to a deep wound in her belly inflicted by a multiple-tentacle alien that landed on our planet with a meteorite.
This abhorrently weird creature relies on Mr. Vega (Oscar Escalante), a scientist, and his wife Marta (Bernarda Trueba), to find young women to fulfill its concupiscence. “It only gives pleasure and never hurts”, says Veronica, but this is only accurate until it gets tired of playing with the same person. The women who experience it, describe this bizarre yet addictive pleasure as sublime, attaining a primitive and pure state of the sexual act itself.
When Fabian falls into a coma due to a brutal sexual aggression, the mysterious tones of the story intensify while the doubts linger in our heads.
Even demanding my attention in several sections, this was not an attractive story at all, given that some of the images can be truly somber and disgusting. Besides, it doesn’t take you anywhere beyond the superficial.
Standing somewhere between the art-house explorations of Tsai Ming Liang and Brillante Mendoza, the film presents ever-shifting moods, going from the poignant drama to mild crime thriller to restrained sci-fi horror film. The topics are also diverse, touching homophobia, misogyny, hedonism, and human ignominy.
Slippery and sly, “The Untamed” boasts some originality. In spite of that, the extra-sensorial extraterrestrial fiction that Escalante tries to sell becomes more subfusc than scary as the film moves forward.