Cinematic Releases: When Repression Becomes Violence: The Untamed (2017) - Reviewed

The Untamed (2017), from Mexican director Amat Escalante, occupies a curious balance between the fantastical and the all-too-real. A Lovecraftian tentacle alien has crash-landed on Earth and taken residence in a shed owned by an older couple. The creature emits some sort of sexual energy that captivates both the local animal population and any humans that come in contact with it. The pleasure occasionally comes with pain and violence, however, and it is uncertain what its intentions truly are.

The buildup of the film is deliberate and plodding, mostly focusing on the crumbling marriage of Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and Angel (Jesus Meza) and Angel's secret sexual obsession with Alejandra's gay brother Fabian (Edan Villavicencio). Angel puts on a front of being extremely homophobic to deflect away from his vulnerability and infatuation with Fabian. Amat Escalante was inspired to write this film after seeing a defamatory newspaper headline in his home country of Mexico:

 “Oh, a friend of my mother was found dead and drowned, and he was gay, and he worked at a hospital, and they killed him because he went out with some guys.” I saw it was on the cover of the local yellow press: this guy, and the headline was very big, and it said, in Spanish, “Faggot Drowned.” So they’re selling this, obviously they showed the image, and instead of putting, “A guy that worked at a hospital and was helping people and was killed and drowned,” they put it in this other way—just to sell and to feed the ignorance, the stupidity of the public.

This film's central theme involves how repression of natural urges and fear of violating societal norms can drive a person to commit violent acts against both themselves and others. The first two acts of The Untamed concentrates on the drama of the married couple and Angel's attempts to suppress his homosexual tendencies. The alien monster is a visual representation of these sexual urges, not unlike the demon in Andrzej Żuławski's horror film Possession (1981) (which Escalante is fully aware of, as he thanks Zulawski in the end credits). People go to the alien to experience unfettered sexual pleasure without judgment. Though it is horrific in appearance, the creature is surprisingly sensual, its many phallic tentacles gently exploring the human hosts. It's impossible to not make the comparison to Japanese hentai, particularly Toshio Maeda's Urotsukidōji (1989) which was the grandfather of the "tentacle porn" genre.

The cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro (who is often used by Lars von Trier) is beautiful and ethereal with special attention paid the more rural areas of Mexico. His use of fog and mist is especially haunting. This is an extremely strange concept for a film and the actors do an excellent job selling both the mundane aspects and the more bizarre parts. Although this film had a small budget, the special effects for the alien are fantastic and convincing.

The Untamed is a dark and erotic story filled with both realistic characters and nightmare visions. If you have the patience to wade through the slow pacing, you will be richly rewarded by the end.

--Michelle Kisner