It may seem odd to call a film as austere and violent as Undergods beautiful, with its bleak tones against a setting reminiscent of Cold War Era Brutalist architecture, all populated with unhappy violent people. However the cinematic achievement of the film lies in appreciating the soft visual touches and peeks at vulnerable humanity beneath violence. Just like Brutalist architecture, this film isn’t for every one, but it is a masterfully crafted work of art horror for those who appreciate the genre.
The brainchild of the self-taught Spanish writer and director Chino Moya, Undergods is a film about the ways in which humans destroy each other; emasculation, greed, revenge, and even straightforward murder. Kafkaesque in its dizzying disorientation and packed with intense emotions, the film portrays several interlinked stories forming an overarching narrative exploring what pushes people to extremes.
The film begins in a world unfamiliar but not unlike our own, a desolate post apocalyptic landscape where two men drive up and down abandoned and bombed out streets picking up dead bodies in the road. Just as we get to know Z and K, the story shifts abruptly to a world much more familiar, with a new condo development and an ominous ring of the doorbell. Off we go as viewers bouncing through character driven stories, returning to the wasteland and K and Z a few more times, mostly with unhappy endings that leave the viewer pondering humanity and the danger of bringing outsiders into our lives
Stark as this film may be, with sweeping shots of looming concrete buildings and characters existing in a world of washed out grey, there are also beautiful moments like a factory scene that utilizes pops of soft pink that delightfully tickle the brain with the direct contrast to the grays, or a tender vignette that is simply a father telling his daughter a bedtime story, seemingly incongruous with the violence of the stories the precede and follow the moment.
The incongruity is what this film special, where even K and Z have a genuine bond of tenderness that transcends their gruesome task. Humans are not portrayed as savage beasts, gross monsters who perpetuate violence because that is how we are hardwired, but instead the characters of Undergods reveal the dark consequences of having the attributes we all share: jealousy, love, greed, fear, doubt, attachment, insecurity, and self preservation.
The performances are incredible, featuring actors like Ned Dennehy, who fans of Mandy (2018) may recognize from his role as Brother Swan. Kate Dickie especially rocks the screen with her performance as Rachel, a wife whose disappeared first husband has just returned in a nonverbal and nonresponsive state, much to the chagrin of her current husband; a position that I am sure no one envy’s. While we the viewer don’t necessarily live in a world like that of Undergods, the situations characters like Rachel find themselves in seem a hair away from possibly happening in real life, leaving you pondering “What would I do in this situation?” Therein lies the relatable humanity; we the viewer, through skillful storytelling, are left sympathizing with characters’ plight. The dread of these situations linger in the brain long after viewing.
If you are looking for an art house existential horror film that masterfully conveys the darker side of human existence while examining its soft underbelly, make sure you check out Undergods.