The Untamed film review: pain for pleasure

Creature feature and social commentary combine in Amat Escalante’s excellent The Untamed

The slippery tentacles of suspicion and pent-up rage slide deep into the lives of a woman and her husband in Amat Escalante’s confronting and brutal dramatic horror. Andrzej Zulawski’s 1980s film Possession is a key touchstone, made clear from the penetrating opening shot alone, as is the work of fellow Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas. Escalante concocts a heady potion jam-packed full of chaos and confusion as he explores homophobic attitudes, unhealthy relationships, misogyny and a burning desire for sexual liberation in Mexico.

Ruth Ramos turns in an alluring performance as Alejandra who makes the shocking discovery that her husband, Angel, is having an affair with her openly gay brother Fabian. The viewer is let in on their secret tryst very early on and as Alejandra learns more about their deceit she makes the best out of a bad situation to dodge her unhappy marriage. Meanwhile an introduction to a mysterious alien, a source of pain and pleasure, delivers rude awakenings to all involved.

Powerful images of a badly beaten body left to die in a ditch send a loud message about the multiple unsolved cases of homophobic murders. The intentionally murky cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro further illuminates how bleak things have got. The sound design attacks the senses, with the hums of nature and the howls of animals blended together to eerie effect. Escalante doesn’t move his camera away from the uncomfortable, striking up a tense mood that cannily conveys frustration and an overwhelming need to break free from convention and fear.

Every character in the film is held captive by something, Alejandra by her marriage and economic standing, Angel by his repression and backward parents and Fabian by an aggressive lover.

“The bodies are piling up”, sighs Alejandra as the film comes to an end, an allusion to the reality of how many people are punished and killed in the battle for sexual freedom. Escalante has crafted a furious and captivating call for change with The Untamed.