The opening seconds of “The Untamed” are a still shot of an asteroid cluster. It could be a destroyed planet or a clump of space rocks. Director and co-writer Amat Escalante frames the cold silence of space for the audience to examine. It’s not clear what we’re meant to be seeing. You may find yourself squinting to make something out, with little success. Cut to an exhausted naked women, ravaged and injured by a barely seen beast; except for a glimpse of a tentacle. Thumping drums reverberate like a sound squall. The woman, Simone Bucio’s Verónica, stalks away from the encounter into the woods through a blanket of fog. She’s deeply satisfied, but the beast is demonstrating dissatisfaction with the roughness that’s resulted in her being injured.
“The Untamed” is a collision of Stanley Kubrick’s style and Pedro Almodovar’s contemporary social melodrama. The Kubrickian influences manifest in dizzying atmospherics, sensory deprivation and crashing waves of alien worlds weaved into the sound design. The Almodovar flair comes in the watching of this powder keg of intertwined relationships.
When Verónica seeks treatment in a local hospital, she meets a gay male nurse Fabián (Eden Villavicencio) and we’re dragged into a sordid affair threatening to break up a family. Fabián’s secret lover is his sister Alejandra’s (Ruth Ramos) husband, Ángel (Jesús Meza).
While “The Untamed” features a being from space that brings a voracious sexual appetite, we’re left to question the way in which the beast selects and attracts. The beast’s arrival and purpose are opaque, even those who care for it/him (it feels like a him), don’t explain how they’ve transformed their lives into keepers of this beast. Co-writers Escalante and Gibrán Portela use this sci-fi as a slimy veil over modern Mexican gender politics. The beast seems to relentlessly punish promiscuous and queer characters. This writhing contradiction will often kill those that don’t satisfy it; thus cleansing the population of those that deviate from the extreme, Christian leaning, conservative society.
Escalante’s visual style and construct of those elements of the story bleed into a sense of foreboding as you’re entering new spaces. He toys with the audience on more than one occasion, moving like a night stalker along tight pathways, the camera gliding with inhuman presence. The aesthetic then relaxes into something much more coherent. You always feel like you’re being drawn into the characters. We’re riding the camera’s waves of realisation, euphoria, instinct and desire.
Fabián (Villavicencio) endures Ángel (Meza). He’s a doormat that has to be on hand when Ángel has reached the level of drunken courage to overcome his shame. Villavicencio oozes charm and confidence and it’s hard to see in his performance what makes him attracted to Ángel. Meza is a bundle of self-loathing and reflexive violence. Escalante’s design of this character is definitely an indictment of a certain kind of masculinity.
When the inevitable occurs and their relationship is revealed, Ruth Ramos’ Alejandra is led to the beast by Verónica (Bucio). This strange recruitment of potential conquests is the slinky desperate gesture to stay in this temperamental being’s favour. Ramos becomes the focus of the film. She’s the only woman that appears to repeatedly satiate this beast’s boundless lust. She’s a canvas for the audience to interrogate.
Escalante’s “The Untamed” is an exciting blend of how to approach conceptions of the “other.” This is not a traditional science fiction film. The beast is an emblem, a slithering “elephant” (with tentacles) in the room. It’s an unsettling work.
Dir. Amat Escalante
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