Set in an undisclosed European dystopian future full of burnt-out apartment blocks and corpses littering the streets, Undergods opens on two men in a garbage truck, picking up said corpses while lamenting on life. This sets the grim, sometimes funny, tone of the movie which is feeling very relevant in today’s pandemic-reeling world.
A kind of anthology film, Chino Moya’s debut feature has interwoven stories full of colourful characters played brilliantly by an international cast. Though the film has varying themes (are some of the stories even real or are they fairytales?) at its heart are the stories of three men who accept strangers into their lives with dire consequences.
In a time when it’s literally dangerous to invite strangers into our homes, the first man’s tale takes this idea of stranger danger and turns it into literal violence. Couple Ron (Michael Gould) and Ruth (Hayley Carmichael) are startled when they hear a knock on their door one evening to find that a neighbour (Ned Dennehy) has been locked out and needs somewhere to stay. What starts as an act of neighbourly love soon turns into neighbourly hate as Ron starts to get pushed out of his own household.
The second man, Hans (Eric Godon), has the misfortune to double-cross the wrong stranger (Jan Bijvoet) in the next tale, who in turn takes out revenge on Hans’ daughter (Tanya Reynolds).
The stranger for the third man, Dom (Adrian Rawlins) is his wife’s ex-husband, who turns up at their kitchen table one evening. Distracted by winning a promotion at work and sucking up to the boss (a wonderfully smarmy Burn Gorman), his wife (played brilliantly by Katie Dickie) soon focusses her attention on her mute ex-husband rather than him.
Though the stories aren’t neatly tied up in a bow, what really connects them is their stunning look and disquieting vibe, especially with the first and third story. The clean, rigid lines of Ron and Ruth’s apartment, as well as Dom’s backdrop of bland urbanisation (every house in their street is exactly the same), show a kind of perfect domesticity that distracts from the sinister goings-on within them. It’s the second story that sets itself apart from the clean aesthetic of the first and third tale – taking on more rich period look full of decadence and greed.
The three main male characters are similar, however, in that their comfortable lives are quick to take a downward turn through some partial fault of their own. Both Ron and Dom are clearly unhappy in their domestic situations (though they are loathed to do anything about it apart from moan) and all three men are overbearing on the women in their lives to the point of contempt and, at times, verbal abuse, which sits uncomfortably.
The soundtrack, too, which is all Eighties synth carries a distinct disarming vibe – jerking the viewer back into the story throughout, and making us sit up, listen and perhaps even learn a thing or two about being overly content – you never know when a stranger might show up and turn your lives inside out…
Undergods was reviewed at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2020.