The Untamed is a psychodramatic character study as well as an icky-kinky horror/sci-fi outing complete with an FX tentacled sex-monster. Yet Barcelonan co-writer co-producer and director Amat Escalante seems less interested in the mysterious beast and more fascinated with the extreme relationships between his fractured characters.
An unusual Mexican, Danish, French, German, Norwegian and Swiss co-production featuring a strong and uninhibited cast, this mostly Spanish-language epic is hard to pigeonhole and sometimes harder still to get your head around, especially in the slightly baffling first twenty minutes or so.
Deliberately opening his movie in the most provocative fashion possible, this introduces us to the naked Veronica (Simone Bucio) as she gets extraterrestrially intimate, and then we’re thrown into the realistic domestic life of marrieds Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and the dominating Ángel (Jesus Meza) and their two pesky kids. ‘Ale’ is tiring of Ángel’s vanilla sex, refusal to help with the children and general aggression, but she doesn’t know that he’s angrily closeted and having spirited booty calls with her handsome doctor brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). He, in turn, is becoming intrigued with Veronica after she turns up at the hospital with an abdomen wound from getting too freaky with the alien.
Keeping us unclear of how the whole monster business works until surprisingly late in the action, Escalante instead uncomfortably follows the plights of this bisexual quartet and allows his unfamiliar players to shine in startling scenes, with Ramos (in her first film) particularly good as an emotionally deadened woman who meets Veronica and finally opens up.
Like many darkly fantastic outings, The Untamed also toys with the idea that the primal-passion-inducing creature isn’t actually real and that the people here are being driven by delusion and desire, although Escalante can’t keep this going for too long and must show his octopoid-thingie, which looks and acts more than a little like the carnal creation that drives Isabelle Adjani loopy in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981).
With a little David Lynch-ish uncanny creepiness, a heaped helping of David Cronenberg-esque body-horror, generous globs of Lars von Trier’s fevered sexuality and details of urban drudgery that suggest a sort of Spanish Mike Leigh, this nevertheless finds its own peculiar personality. Braver and broader-minded punters who can handle its head-scratching aspects and wild raunchiness should find much to enjoy. Others, however, might be seriously alienated.
Rated R. The Untamed is screening at the Mercury Cinema on Tuesday December 5 and Sunday December 10. All details are at mercurycinema.org.au