REVIEW: Undergods (2020)

dir. Chino Moya

All dystopian films have their own brand of bleakness, but with its collection of shorter stories Moya’s directorial debut serves up a buffet of grim tales.

The film opens on a scene of post-apocalyptic urban destruction, the landscape populated by shattered concrete towers. Two men – K (Johann Myers, Small Axe) and Z (Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul) – are at work driving around collecting bodies, heaping them into a fly-blown pile in the back of their van. A voiceover tells us that “everything will be sucked into a massive hole”, setting the dour tone for what comes next. 

When one of the men says he’s dreamed of a “clean room, with a ghost inside” we are then presented with an image of this ghost – a middle aged man in a nondescript apartment – and so begins a journey through a series of domestic horror tales. 

First shown is a low-key home invasion story as a neighbour overstays his welcome and crosses boundaries, and from here the focus moves between the various vignettes in an inconsistent, dreamlike way. Stories narrated by characters start to play out on screen, until the characters within these are brought back into the original dystopian world in a blurring of the boundaries between reality and fiction. 

The loose anthology style keeps the action moving, but also gives the feeling of a film skating on the surface of its stories, unwilling to commit to a deeper dive into the lives of any one set of characters. Any of the separate narratives could have easily been a standalone short, each quickly drawing the viewer in with even passing characters having their own distinct motives and identities, but assembled together into a single feature can cut the stories short, making it frustrating to leave such compelling scenes behind so swiftly. 

That said the variety of settings and characters allows for exploration of many variants on the dystopian theme, from the visceral horror of incarceration, through domestic jealousy and cultish pseudo-therapy, to the special hell of a drunken rendition of “My Way” at a birthday karaoke party.  

Undergods is ultimately unique and visually striking, making up for narrative skittishness with a strong aesthetic and core themes of horror in the banal. If you’ve ever wondered what a genetic hybrid of Creepshow, Brazil and an Amicus portmanteau might look like, this could well be the answer.  

Melissa Cox

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