The End Is The Beginning Is The End: Undergods (2021)-Reviewed

You’re probably sick of hearing about “unprecedented times” and seeing every new film compared to them. Human nature is to try to relate art to current experiences so at a certain point that becomes unavoidable. Sometimes the comparisons can feel like a stretch but then a film like Undergods comes around and the only thing you can think about is how horrifyingly real it all feels. 

Multi hyphenate artist Chino Moya makes his feature film debut here with this dizzyingly dystopian anthology. Set in an indeterminate future and filled with a stacked cast of British character actors like Kate Dickie and Burn Gorman, Undergods weaves three stories together, all centered around the oppressive domination capitalism has on a society. Each tale series in on how even when you feel like you’re on top, there’s always going to be someone waiting in the wings to take your place, your fortunes and your life. It’s nothing personal. Just business. 


(Images Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

That sentiment is made crystal clear by the anthology’s framing device. Centered on two truck drivers K (Johann Myers) and Z (Géza Röhrig), the men drive around a burned out city collecting dead bodies and kidnapping people to be used as slaves in an underground work camp. They’re filthy, barely making ends meet themselves but on these streets, they’re at the top of the food chain. As the film drifts in and out of time periods and people’s lives, it inevitably finds its way back to these two.  No matter how wealthy you are, your position of power or where you stand, if these two find you, it’s over. It’s a brilliant conceit and further drives the moral rot of capitalism into your brain. 

That juggling of time is Moya’s most brilliant decision. While K and Z tool around looking for victims in burned out, post-apocalyptic cities, we drop in and out of a series of tales. Each set at an indeterminate time featuring players who weave in and out of the others’ stories. Sometimes we’re following an older couple in what appears to be society mid-collapse welcoming a guest into their apartment. Another follows a man moving into that same apartment building telling his young daughter a story. That story transports us to unknown past where a wealthy man is approached by a mysterious stranger with blueprints for a magnificent building, looking for funding. Our final story follows an unhappy couple living in what appears to be society pre-collapse and how their lives are upended by the woman’s ex-husband, thought dead, returning home. Trying to make sense of the when and where is a fool’s errand because Moya will set a story on one person only to pull the rug out and reveal you’ve been following someone else all along. These people drift in and out of their tales, the world around them sometimes resembling our present, others a bleak future. It’s disorienting, thrilling and all too clear in its message despite its incoherence.

See, it ultimately doesn’t matter where and when this is set. Moya wants you to understand that all of this is happening now and our future is in serious peril if we don’t heed the warnings. Anthologies are tricky to pull off and rarely come together cohesively. In playing with time and structure, Moya’s film flows so fluidly you start to understand that these aren’t disjointed narratives, they’re pieces of a larger whole. Causes and effects, circling around one another as society collapses into itself. His design is evocatively gorgeous as well. The hollow, crumbled city gives way to a more modern city scape which reveals an unknown, almost Dickensian past. These players exist across time and their stories mirror each other. All scrounging along, trying to get through it by any means necessary. The repetition, strangers showing up, lives being destroyed, is a bit obvious but it ultimately works. An endless cycle of greed, survival and death. 

Undergods is as confident a debut as you’ll see this year. Often bleak, often funny, Moya wears his anger firmly on his sleeve. Sure, the conclusions are easy and the repetition of theme can become a bit tedious but this is everything great sci-fi should be. Urgently of the moment and through a lens that feels distant with the insidious notion that it might be closer than you think. Never staid, its delightful upending of form and understanding of setting leaves its viewer sinisterly unmoored. You might not fully understand the hows and whys but Chino Moya’s Undergods leaves an undeniable stamp on your brain that lingers long after K and Z scoop up the last corpse of their shift. 

-Brandon Streussnig