The Untamed

The Untamed (Spanish: La Region Salvaje) is a 2016 Mexican drama film directed by Amat Escalante, who won the Silver Lion for his direction at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.[1]

I admired the approach of just jumping in to situations and running from there, foregoing the backstories and allowing the viewer to take the characters as they are – and not as the inevitable conclusion of some contrived and edited resumes spoonfed to us in easy to digest bites of cod psychology. And likewise, I appreciated being spared the origin story of the alien which, as with super-heroes, can only ever sound ridiculous and undermine everything that comes after. But inevitably, others don’t agree:

As a Science Fiction film it fails because it doesn’t [conform] to science fiction[‘s] unwritten rules, where we usually have a scientific explanation of what is going on, like in «2001 A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick or “Interstellar” by Christopher Nolan. The “alien”… it is supposed that it came from an asteroid that no one has heard of or has detected but that on its impact falling, made a small crater which now is full with animals in the act of fornication. There is absolutely no explanation of its origin. We just have to assume that it fell somewhere in earth, in this case in Mexico but surely could’ve been anywhere in the earth.

… This “alien” creature… is some kind of a sex machine that gives pleasure both to men and women and there is a lot of sex in this film, with or without the creature, but without feelings, there is no love, it’s a mechanical thing, and likewise the personages are also quite mechanical in their behavior, they lack will and personality, it’s like they are imprisoned by the environment and the circumstances. Even when they speak it seems they are speaking to a wall and not to another human being, their voices are low and flat and completely without any sign of will. If Amat Escalante wanted to give us the impression that their characters are some kind of robots driven by the current of things and time, he has succeeded.

… As a film with a social message it falls short… because the film is so unrealistic that we cannot connect it with a social reality, so I regard this more like a science fiction allegory.[2]

Sophoclaw from Norway, 12 October 2016

The alien was always the elephant in the room and the rest of the story was always too slight to distract us from it. If the tale had been told with a drug instead of the alien, the all-consuming pleasure of its highs and the heavy cost of its comedowns, no-one would give it any attention at all – we’ve all seen that too many times.

In many ways, the next chapter would have been far more interesting but could never have been captured: the discoveries of all those bodies pulling up in the gorge, the animal orgies at the crash site, the dead coma victim and a mum on the run. But then again, the best bits of the film were when one character tried to explain the unexplainable to another character with the knowing audience listening in, so a tilt towards the fantastic over the mundane might have given the film some much needed ambition.

What was also fascinating, sadly, was reading the reviews: all of whom oversell the film. Anyone seeing the film based on reviews could only be disappointed. Each reviewer seems incapable of catching the tone of the film, they all describe something glossier as if the descriptors for the latest mega-budget franchise instalment are the only tools they have: they’ve pre-conceived, and subsequently filed away, the film as being ‘science-fiction’ and are therefore incapable of describing the kitchen-sink drama it really was.

The film had a lot of darkness which was undermined by the screening room being ridiculously bright. I couldn’t help but think of something David Lynch was preaching around the time of the Twin Peaks re-launch:

All things these days are seen on machines that have very bad picture and very bad sound, generally speaking, and it’s a real sadness, because people think they’ve seen the film, but they really haven’t.
And that’s not right. If people at home had as big a screen as possible, and great sound, and if they did turn the lights down for the things they see, and make it a safe place, a good place to see it, that would be really beautiful.

The real sadness these days is that cinemas are unable to offer the optimum viewing environment anymore: they can’t offer the darkness that would allow you to immerse yourself in the film and only the film. You’re denied that personal escape that the darkness offered, now you can never forget where you are and who else is there. The Filmhouse, where I viewed this, used to be fastidious about not letting people in after the film had started, but now because they don’t want the film to obstruct the audience from spending money at the bar, they also let people turn up 10 or 15 minutes after the start; this was then compounded by an usher repeatedly and noisily opening the rear door and sitting down for five-minutes before noisily exiting again.

[1] Wikipedia. The Untamed (2016 film). Retrieved 27 August 2017.
[2] IMDb. The Untamed (2016). Posted on 27.08.2017. Retrieved 22 January 2017.

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