Imagine finding a sexual partner so adept at providing mind-blowing pleasure, you keep going back for more, despite the potential for personal harm. Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante has taken that dysfunctional relationship dynamic to fantastical extremes with his 2017 release, The Untamed, a compelling drama that explores the self-destructive side of our hedonistic tendencies. The idiosyncratic twist of The Untamed is that the incredibly talented lover isn’t human; it’s a tentacled, Lovecraftian alien.
Part of the monster is shown in the first few minutes of the film. Within a cabin in the woods, a young naked woman named Verónica is being pleasured by one of the creature’s many appendages. The cabin belongs to an elderly scientist and his quasi-hippie wife who discovered and houses the monster, pimping it out free of charge to whomever wants to experience new orgasmic heights. Apparently the creature gets tired of being used just for sex, or perhaps it gets tired of having sex with the same person. Regardless, when Verónica demands more time after she climaxes, it lashes out, delivering a wound to her abdomen.
The narrative then switches to a married couple, Ángel and Alejandra, waking up in bed together. Ángel initiates self-serving sex; Alejandra is left unsatisfied. Shortly afterwards, they discover that the younger of their two boys searched out and ate some of Alejandra’s secret stash of chocolate bars even though he knew he would suffer an allergic reaction; his succumbing to desire despite the negative repercussions foreshadows one of the major themes of the film. Meanwhile, a handsome young doctor named Fabián treats Verónica’s wound, which she reports as a dog bite. It doesn’t take long for Fabián and Verónica to strike up a friendship. As it turns out, Fabián is the brother of Alejandra, paving the way for Ángel and Alejandra to encounter Verónica and, eventually, her monstrous lover, resulting in a procession of tragedies.
As bizarre as the central conceit might sound, it not only works, it renders The Untamed an unforgettable viewing experience. At times its measured cadence and insert shots of white clouds against blue sky feel dreamlike, while the monster-in-the-woods element of the story creates a fairy-tale quality. It’s worth noting that in its home country, at the Ariel’s, Mexico’s equivalent to the Oscars, The Untamed was nominated in twelve categories, including best Picture and Best Screenplay. It ended up winning five, including the Best Director prize for Escalante.
The monster itself doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time, but when it is shown, it’s very convincing. The special effects in general are incredibly realistic, apparently achieved by seamlessly combining animatronics and computer graphics. Two scenes stand out in particular – one with the creature, and one without. Both are guaranteed to leave an indelible impression. But it’s the unpredictable storyline and talented cast that really sells The Untamed; twist and turns abound, and the four principal actors are a perfect fit for their fictional counterparts. Most memorable are Jesús Meza as Ángel, a man at self-destructive odds with his own sexuality, and Simone Bucio as Verónica, whose unique beauty recalls a young Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Horror aficionados anticipating more creature effects might feel disappointed. To them I say, come for the monster, stay for the great storytelling and artful execution. The Untamed is a near-perfect psychosexual drama disguised as a creature feature.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski