Chino Moya’s hauntingly bleak debut feature Undergods is an ambitious trio of tales expertly interwoven film. A vision that makes him a filmmaker to look out for. A very impressive movie.
A collection of darkly humorous, fantasy tales about ill-fated characters and doomed fortune: in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic Europe, K & Z roam the streets on the lookout for corpses and something even more valuable – fresh meat.
A Russian nesting doll of a film Chino Moya effortlessly weaves through his three stories as we get a full glimpse of the bleak present and future of Europe. After being introduced to K and Z, we go to the present, where a couple is unpacking in their new apartment when a neighbour from the floors above asks for help after being locked out for the weekend. Immediately we sense something is not right with the man, and as he prolongs his stay, the couple’s increasingly splintering relationship comes to a devastating head.
This leads us directly into the next story as a father tells his child a scary bedtime story. Still, long after the sale has ended, we continue with the story as businessman Hans tries to take advantage of an eccentric designers engineering designs, throwing his daughter indirectly into danger. To save him, he and his daughter’s boyfriend must go and get her back, to another disastrous result.
Finally, the last tale has an overworked engineer begins to rise in his company just as his marriage is falling apart. While also struggling to have a relationship with his stepson, his world is turned upside down when long-missing Sam (Rachel’s ex-husband and the father to the teenage son) returns home in a catatonic state. As Rachel begins to focus more on Sam, Dom struggles to hold back his anger at his current life resulting in… you guessed it, a devastating disaster for the family.
For as grim and grey as Undergods is, it is expectantly gorgeous looking. This is an unflinchingly bleak film with its palette; the greys and blues swamp the screen at all time and increases the sense of hopelessness. From the decaying post-apocalyptic unnamed city that the future is set in or the bland and sparse apartments that the characters in the present reside in, colour is almost void from us. But, when it does appear, it almost shocks you into concentrating again. Scenes such as the factory in the third story, the party scene when Dom sees his future could potentially be as colour positively fills the screen.
Importantly in the interconnecting scene, as the father is with his young daughter in the new apartment, warmth is with the screen here. We have two people who adore one another, and they wear bright clothes, and love is present. Love doesn’t come back after this as that one scene is the only one with an iota of warmth to it. For most of these characters, whether it is in the future or the present, these characters are all stuck in their situations; they have no say in what happens to them.
Be it the husband who realises his politeness has gone on for too long to an unwanted guest, to a failing businessman who needs to find that one big success and will go too far to find it. Even with the final story, we have a man who stepped in and took over everything for his new family. Be it paying the mortgage and bills of his predecessor and trying to make something of himself and have that respect; he yearns in both family and career, a culmination of both of the previous two stories. Yet, these men never look like luck will turn their way at any point. We hope they do, but due to the amount of looming doom presented all around is. We know otherwise.
What is impressive about Undergods is how well Moya has weaved everything together and how well it connects; the highlight is how the second and third story connects. It is such a bold choice as we watch what happens with one character that we hauntingly become a shell of the person they were, and for us to just abruptly switch surprises you. With a film that doesn’t exactly stick to a normal narrative, it becomes another welcome inclusion.
If there are disappointments within the film, the stories feel rushed to get to their endings and cleverly continue onto the next story, certainly in the two latter stories. Moya does such a good jump at world-building that you have a tinge of regret at not being able to see more of them when you leave the stories. Add to this when the stories end right when it has you in the palm of its hand, and you are desperate for the story to continue, to see what next, yet Moya has no interest in that as those stories in his eyes have had their time. It is a wonderful glimpse into worlds that showcases the skills that Moya has. While we’re deprived of seeing more, it doesn’t linger too long with you because the story just resolutely continues forward.
The electro based score doesn’t quite mesh with Undergods as well as you would hope, but then again, a film that is as firmly as bleak as this was always going to struggle a tad with such electronica based (however eerie it tries to be) score like this. However, the juxtaposition of the score and the visuals do help in distorting the reality of what we know.
With that said, this is a strong debut that works tremendously well. Is it a film that will be an immediate repeat viewing affair? Not quite; it is just too heavy with its bleakness for that. But, Undergods reels you in with its intriguing style and gorgeous visuals of a world that is falling apart. Strong performances and direction leave you with a memorable yet wholly depressing affair.
Undergods will be in UK Cinemas & on Digital Download from 17th May – pre-order here!
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