A couple in a troubled marriage locate a meteorite, initiating an encounter with a mysterious creature. Their lives are turned upside down by the discovery of the creature, which is a source of both pleasure and destruction.
November 7, 2017 (Blu Ray)
Amat Escalante, Gibran Portela
Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza, Eden Villavicencio
The Untamed, which won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, arrives on Blu Ray. Written and directed by Amat Escalante, this Spanish-language film tells the story of a troubled married couple who encounter a mysterious squid creature from outer space. It’s Brokeback Mountain meets tentacle hentai, because that’s something that needed to exist apparently. Critics seemed to have been divided on this one, but horror audiences will be entertained. The Untamed is a slow burn, art-house exercise: twisted, surreal, and satisfying. The cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro is equally surreal and satisfying. It’s also incredibly studied, not giving way to blatant self-aggrandizing “camera porn”, like Emmanuel Lubezki is want to do in Children of Men, Gravity, The Revenant, and Birdman. Claro is so self-assured in his camerawork, he’ll probably never win an Academy Award, just like Roger Deakins. But I digress.
Verónica, (played by newcomer Simone Bucio), is seduced by a creature from beyond time and space. As one character explains: “it’s our primitive side, in it’s most basic and purest state. Materialized.” Verónica’s escalating lust for the space squid quickly ensnares a married couple, Ángel and Alejandra, (played by Jesús Meza and Ruth Ramos), as well as Alejandra’s homosexual brother Fabián, (Eden Villavicencio). The couple is also caught up in their own melodrama, as Ángel is cheating on Alejandra with his own brother-in-law, Fabián. Therein lies the true point of The Untamed. Fidelity. Not only to one’s partner, but also to one’s sense of identity. If the space squid is the metaphorical other, than the film forces us to consider how much we “otherize” the more mundane minorities in our midst.
The opening scene contains a masterful tracking shot of a young girl walking through the morning fog, hanging over a Mexican farmland. It wasn’t easy to get, as you learn in the behind the scenes documentary. One unnerving piece of feedback I once heard, from an audience member watching a four minute long short film that took thirteen hours to make, was simply, “that’s it?” Yes, basically. Filmmakers and cinephiles will appreciate the mad dash that is every production element, every camera setup, often fighting external elements, (in this case the weather). Collaborative art is a study in shared lunacy, all for that perfect moment. And Amat Escalante does come off as a meticulous director, though by no means dictatorial. If anything, The Untamed is glacially paced, not unlike Under the Skin. Some horror aficionados might fault the film for unwarranted ponderousness, and that’s perfectly warranted. Escalante wants to challenge us, but unlike lesser arty flicks like DIS and The Witch, the movie ends with a genuine frisson, rather than a bitch slap. Kind of like a magic show, where the magician asks, “is this your card?” And it actually is.
Let’s get into the performances. Ruth Ramos: stellar, strong, steadfast, sexually-charged. Near the end, she has a nude scene with the space squid that is so raw, so vulnerable, it can’t be laughed at. That is commitment, dear readers. Eden Villavicencio as her gay brother Fabián: equally vulnerable, emotional, emotive. Near the middle, he is the victim of a strange, twisted rape, and your heart goes out to him. Jesús Meza as Alejandra’s cheating husband Ángel: a real rat-bastard, self-righteous in his denial of his homosexuality, but Meza finds the humanism in his rat-fink character. Near the end, Ángel is nothing more than a helpless, hapless baby. He is food for the space squid, and we revel in his comeuppance. And Simone Bucio as Verónica? Haunting. And the behind the scenes on the Blu Ray will not give masochistic cinephiles fuel for more “fascist director” stories. Escalante doesn’t put a gun to any actor’s head like Werner Herzog, or a gun to his own head like Francis Ford Coppola. He just makes a movie, and a damn good one at that.
On November 7, 2017 The Untamed arrives on Blu Ray, in all of its High-Definition glory. Warts and all, so to speak. The film isn’t polished, but that is to it’s advantage. Escalante’s film is a welcomed reminder that horror, (like art, like entertainment, like philosophy), should be a quagmire. It’s an emotional minefield, and it will linger long after the scares have given way to catharsis. Some horror can be compartmentalized: Saw is torture porn, Zodiac is a psychological thriller, etc. But good art-house horror lingers, like an It Follows or Let The Right One In. We crave it, because we can’t understand it. The horror in The Untamed is as beguiling as a squid monster, fallen to earth from outer space, wanting to have sex with us. H.P. Lovecraft understood it in prose; Escalante does a damn good proxy in film.