A single, silent shot of a meteor in space. A naked woman with something long and slimy crawling over her leg. Those are the first two shots of director Amat Escalante’s The Untamed and the best part about them is how they feel totally unrelated to what follows.
What follows feels like a semi-typical, repressed adult drama. There’s Veronica (Simone Bucio), the woman with the leg. She meets a doctor named Fabian (Eden Villavicencio) whose sister, Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), is not happy in her marriage to Angel (Jesus Meza), a major problem as they have two young boys. Connections between these people develop and, for the bulk of the film, Escalante explores them in a recognizable, but raw, realistic fashion. You almost forget about those first two shots of the movie.
But those shots cast a fascinating shadow on the film. So as you watch this upsetting tale of lies, sex, poverty, homophobia, and violence, there’s always a twinge that makes you remember things are going to eventually take a turn for the weird.
Once that happens, The Untamed glues itself to your consciousness. There are a handful of images in the film that you will never forget—seeing them, your mind races with the implications and beauty of what that meteor and crawly thing represent. And though Escalante doesn’t provide all the answers to the film’s mysteries, for the most part he provides just enough shocking visuals and information to explain why these science fiction elements are there. More importantly, he strongly hints at why they’ve changed the characters in the movie and how those characters view the world around them. To say more would spoil some beautiful reveals.
The Untamed is science fiction used for a subtle, serious subject. It’s a disturbing film, a slow film, but ultimately a hugely surprising and revelatory one. Subjects like the ones Escalante is tackling are not usually associated with meteors and creepy crawly things, but maybe if more people see The Untamed, they’ll realize unrealistic elements can have a huge impact on our vision of reality. It certainly works wonders here.
The Untamed played at Fantastic Fest 2016, and does not yet have U.S. distribution.