Review: The Untamed at Sydney Film Festival
Sex which is classified as something humans need to survive is often made out to be socially taboo when portrayed in films where conservative norms of traditional and highly religious upbringing operate. When seen in films, it almost seems unnatural, uncomfortable, disturbing even when observations of sexual acts become associated with ideas of voyeurism, social depravity and perverse on-screen titillation for viewers.
Veronica’s (Simone Bucio) naked body being pleasured by a mysterious unseen creature is one of the first things you see in the opening sequence of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, a visually striking film that is both strange and obscure, alluding to one’s subconscious and primitive desire for sexual gratification. There’s a strange blurring of genre in the film between the unfamiliarity of science-fiction horror, fantasy and the confronting nature of hardcore pornography that serves to commentate on the changing nature of how sex is represented on screen as either something to fear or merely a primitive need.
Referencing the psychological concept of the id, the need for our basic primitive urges to be satisfied, the film classifies humans as creatures of pleasure by paralleling our desires with those of animals. It seems however, that the distinction between animals and humans is that, through ageing, we become aware of the consequences of our actions and this inhibits our ability to meet our true wants, as any wish to do so seems almost selfish.
The Untamed does not hold back in its portrayal of sex as something that evokes both fear and curiosity. Darkness envelops Veronica’s body as she submits herself physically and emotionally to a creature that is foreign, something from out of this world (an alien life form that mysteriously arrives after a meteor crashes on Earth) with the ability to provide pleasure in the form of pure sex for all who come near it seemingly devoid of consequence.
It’s difficult to look away from the mechanics of the creature composed of fleshy tentacles covered by a viscous substance as it squirms across from the edges of the screen towards its sexual partner, enticed by a creature whose onscreen presence is both grotesque yet functional and whose qualities are quite riveting to watch.
The Untamed’s story centres on a working class Mexican family consisting of a young housewife, Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and her two sons, her misogynistic husband Angel (Jesús Meza) and openly gay brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). Beyond the conservative traditional values that dominate society is the drive for each of the characters’ needs to be met, something that is actualised by the introduction of the creature whose character’s ambiguous nature allows for an open interpretation of the creature’s purpose beyond the provision of primitive sexual pleasure.
Nature is used in The Untamed to reference sexual desire, with animals seen copulating and scenes of nature including flowing streams of water, a mysterious cabin in the woods and characters obscured by their surroundings as if to conceal their true nature, until they visit to the cabin where the creature dwells.
Escalante’s use of characters and their interactions with the mysterious creature in The Untamed help to question preconceived social conventions of how sex is viewed by one’s choice of sexual partner and the social implications of their decision. By leaving the creature ambiguous, its changes with each interaction by enhancing the subconscious desires of each character within the film.
The unnamed, untamed creature becomes a mysterious force throughout the film, that lingers within the subconscious, the fantasy-horror aspects acting as commentary on Mexico’s current socio-political climate, where homophobia, misogyny and hypocrisy exist within a highly conservative, religious city in which traditional values reign supreme. Its anonymity becoming a visual representation of human instinct and desire serving as a metaphor on the dangers of addiction, the seeking of pleasure without any form of responsibility or consequence just as violent crimes perpetrated by unnamed people in society remain unpunished.
The Untamed will get a wide release later this year. See the full Sydney Film Festival programme and find out more here: http://www.sff.org.au/
Review by Addy Fong.