The Untamed ****/*****
Directed by: Amat Escalante
Written by: Amat Escalante & Gibrán Portela
Starring: Ruth Ramos (Alejandra), Simone Bucio (Veronica), Jesus Meza (Angel), Eden Villavicencio (Fabian).
The opening shot of Amat Escalnate’s The Untamed shows an asteroid floating out in space, and then he cuts immediately to an interior of a small cabin, where a woman, Vero (Simone Bucio) is just finishing a sexual encounter with some sort of animal that has a tentacle. We don’t quite get a good view of the creature right then – but eventually, we will, but this opening effectively prepares us for what is to follow – a strange mix of sci-fi, horror, domestic drama and allegory, The Untamed is certainly inspired by films like Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) – among others – but it is also very clearly its own thing. It is not a perfect film, but in its messiness, it finds interesting directions and observations a cleaner film wouldn’t.
The film centers on Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and her husband Angel (Jesus Meza). Theirs is not a happy marriage – and certainly not sexually fulfilling for either one, as Escalante establishes early with a quick sex scene between the two, where Alejandra seems bored (and then retreats to the shower to masturbate), meanwhile Angel is having an affair with Alejandra’s brother, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). Angel works in construction – in the already macho Mexican society, and outwardly he is extremely homophobic – using gay slurs with his friends, and insulting his brother in law to his wife, and even calling Fabian names to his face. Fabian hates himself for this affair (one weak spot in the film is that it never really becomes clear why Fabian started the affair with Angel in the first place – from Angel’s point-of-view, it makes sense – he is gay but hates gay people, so Fabian may be the only one he really knows – but why is Fabian drawn to Angel, especially since it seems like he has a good relationship with Alejandra?). It is Fabian, a nurse, who meets Vero when she comes into the hospital following that sexual encounter with the tenacled creature – which is capable of giving immense pleasure, but also causing immense pain. The creature is stored in a cabin in the middle of nowhere by an elderly couple – the field around it in lush and green, and the animals around them seem constantly horny. The elderly couple don’t think Vero should come around anymore – the creature seems upset when she is, and, as we know, is starting to hurt her. It is through Vero that the other major characters in the film will eventually all visit that cabin – with mixed results depending on who goes there – those with secrets, lies or violence in them have a worse time than those who don’t.
The Untamed is a clearly a critique of the macho culture in much of Mexico – and frankly, around the world. Alejandra is the most clearly sympathetic character – a woman dealing with two kids, a husband who doesn’t satisfy her sexually (does even try really), and is cheating on her with brother, and prone to violent outbursts. She is many ways stuck however – she isn’t rich, and works for her husband’s parents, who also act as her babysitter. Vero enters her life in a strange way, and will bring her the creature eventually. Everyone else in the movie has sins weighing on them – the lies both Angel and Fabien tell Alejandra, and even Vero, who cannot quit seeing the creature, and leads people there, perhaps knowing the consequences – and eventually even her jealously of Alejandra.
The film isn’t always an easy mixture of its various genre elements. I really don’t think we needed a scene where the elderly “caretaker” of the creature explains its nature to Alejandra – and by extension the audience – as it seems fairly clear what it all means. The film stretches credibility at points – and no, not just because it has a mainly tenactled creature capable of giving orgasms, but in terms of character motivation. But the film is a unique film the whole way through – a fascinating view of macho culture, homophobia and unmet female sexual needs, all of which end up coming together with horrible results. The Untamed is a messy film to be sure – but that’s the way it should be. It is ambitious and audacious, and if it doesn’t quite pull of everything it wants to do, well, that’s to be expected. But it is a film that demands to be seen and talked about.
Note: I saw this film at TIFF in 2016, and wrote the review shortly after. As always, as far as I know, the version I saw at TIFF, is the being released into theaters.