An unsettling mix of sex and death, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed unfolds like a melodrama that just happens to feature tentacle porn. A cross between The Thing, Under the Skin and more than a few references to Cronenberg, The Untamed follows a set of interwoven characters and stories that culminate with an out-of-this-world sex object hidden away in a barn in the countryside.
Ale (Ruth Ramos) is quiet and caring, raising her children while working in the candy factory owned by her mother-in-law. Her husband Angel (Jesus Meza) is a crude homophobe who just happens to be having a secret homosexual affair with Ale’s brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio). Fabian is a nurse who comes in contact with the mysterious Veronica (Simone Bucio), who comes into the hospital where Fabian works presenting what she claims are bites from a dog. After Veronica and Fabian develop a friendship of sorts she clues him into the real cause of her injuries, and introduces him to a couple living out in the mountains who are the guardians of a slimy, many-tentacled creature from another planet. The silent monstrosity may not be much to look at, but it’s capable of bringing unthinkable sexual pleasure to anyone who comes in contact with it.
The Untamed is a perverse oddity that is none the less fascinating. The characters are deeply flawed: the homophobic Angel is borderline abusive; Veronica lures people into possible danger; Fabian seems gentle but is, after all, carrying on a secret affair with his sister’s husband. The only truly likable character here is Ale, but her general naivety and cluelessness starts to wear the viewer down. It’s only in the third act, when she begins to have her own experience with the sex-alien, that she begins to seem like more than a victim.
There’s a lull from time to time. The tonal shifts make one feel disoriented, and there are times when it’s unclear if Escalante is going for character-driven melodrama, queasy body horror or something in between. Still, The Untamed is almost hypnotic in its languid pace; the creature-effects are presented in a matter-of-fact manner that makes them all the more believable and doubles their horror.
The Untamed meanders slightly, and feels overlong as a result. But the material that works works well. It’s a sickly, character-driven mix of horror and humanity that makes for something unique.
The Untamed is playing at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.