Damn These Heels Film Festival
Director: Amat Escalante
There’s a moment in Amat Escalante’s sexually charged sci-fi film, The Untamed, in which the violently repressed Ángel (Jesús Meza) demands that his beleaguered wife Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) reveal whom she’s fucking. It comes to us late in the film when the abusive Ángel finally explodes with alpha-male rage, but it’s the most important question of the film’s narrative—once we replace the “who” with “what,” that is.
Indeed, The Untamed is a film that borders on obsessed when it comes to the sexual relationships of its characters. Ángel’s aggressive homophobia is only a macho smokescreen that he uses to distract Alejandra from the adulterous relationship that he’s having with her brother Fabián (Eden Villavicencio). Verónica (Simone Bucio), the sexually ambiguous woman who ties all the characters together, kicks off the film in the final throes of orgasmic passion. Since so much of the film’s plot revolves around the sex lives of its characters, it’s hard to really focus on anything else about the story—until the eventual reveal of the (s)extraterrestrial creature that attracts these lost people into its multi-tentacled embrace.
It’s probably not worth digging too deeply into the symbolic significance of this strange creature. Like sex itself, it has the power to empower some but brutally destroy others, but it doesn’t really feel like Escalante is breaking any new ground with his exploration of that theme. In fact, his treatment of sex in The Untamed is too preoccupied with physicality—we see quite a bit of bangin’, but no one really seems like they enjoy any of it. Perhaps this is yet another ambiguous critique of human sexuality, but every sex scene plays out with all the joy and enthusiasm of a mediocre toilet cleaning.
When the characters aren’t making bored love to one another, a moderately interesting police investigation starts to shed light on Ángel’s and Fabián’s illicit relationship. It’s a jolt of plot, pacing and character development that The Untamed seriously needed. Escalante’s detached filmmaking doesn’t give us much reason to emotionally invest in the characters that he’s created, but it’s nice to see Alejandra take the initiative to dump Ángel’s sorry ass.
As a filmmaker, Escalante has built his career on pulling zero punches with his cinematic approach. With The Untamed, it feels a bit like his love of shocking his audiences with unexpectedly visceral imagery is obscuring his ability to tell a cohesive story. The film’s subtextual exploration of casual homophobia in Mexican culture offers an interesting perspective on Ángel’s emotionally stunted relationships, but as the film plays out, this exploration starts to feel like a red herring. Escalante lures us into his overtly deliberate collection of shocking imagery by teasing us with the potential of an interesting story.
It’s a narratively flawed film, but Escalante does have a knack for using muted color schemes and obtuse camera angles to stage truly uncomfortable scenes. His cast members also throw themselves into his weird world with fantastic sincerity. Their characters might be so bored with sex that they’ll willingly bump uglies with a fleshy mass of tentacles on a dirty cabin mattress, but by damn the actors take us there. Overall, The Untamed is the work of a talented filmmaker, albeit one who might have begun his path down the road to self-indulgent creativity. –Alex Springer