Duration: 1h 32m
Writer/Director: Chino Moya
Starring: Johann Myers, Géza Röhrig, Kate Dickie
By Caz Armstrong
“Undergods” is a surreal and disconcerting debut feature by Spanish-British director Chino Moya whose experience in writing comic books is a real strength of the film’s design. Reminiscent of Peter Strickland’s work, this is a jarring look at the dark side of society.
If you try too hard to connect the dots in this film you will be very frustrated as “Undergods” is not a single narrative. Instead, it’s a series of smaller stories and vignettes loosely woven together through time and place. Those times and places are not even possible to pin down in themselves.
With a 1980s synth score and home décor from the 1990s and 2020s, the film already spans 40 years. There are timeless ‘historical’-feeling scenes which touch on a 1950s aesthetic but with neon lighting. And there are post-apocalyptic scenes with characters who feel like they’re from the 1930s.
In each of the vignette stories, we see humanity at the brink of falling apart. Relationships are disrupted and destroyed by mysterious strangers. Humans are caught and sold to the owners of dirty factories who feed them slop. People betray and are betrayed.
No matter what rung of the social ladder you’re on there’s something dark and disastrous lurking just moments away. It’s certainly not a happy outlook.
“Undergods” weaves between these undefinable times and places smoothly and uses small connections to thread each part together. One character might bridge the past and future, for example, but they may well be forgotten as soon as they have served that purpose.
It leaves us constantly searching for a common storyline where there is none. This timeless and disconnected nature is confusing, yes, but it makes the themes apply to human nature rather than being tied to a specific time and place.
Storytelling itself is a recurring motif as people tell stories to each other about things happening at other places in the film. It evokes the cautionary tales humans have always told each other, warning others not to do the terrible deeds lest the same terrible fate befall them. It also feeds into a circular structure, with each scene feeding from the last or describing the next.
Moya’s experience in writing comics is clear in the bold imagery and colour palette. Although the colours may be muted in places and bold in others, they are used very deliberately. They’re woven into the costume, architecture and lighting schemes. They evoke certain emotions, to look garishly superficial, or contrast different people’s experiences with jarring force.
“Undergods” is a perturbing and unnerving approach to storytelling which leaves us with deep, yet strangely non-specific, questions about how we treat other humans and reflecting on our contribution towards the downfall of society.
It tells us there can be no utopia as long as human nature is present. Greed, betrayal, immorality, murder, desperation and jealousy are all poisons that rip us apart and tear us down. Yes, it’s a bleak outlook, but it’s fascinatingly depicted and is certainly a film that will gnaw at your mind for some time to come.