The Untamed Review
Mexican director Amat Escalante has developed something of a reputation for his confrontational filmmaking style. Heli, his 2013 Cannes award-winning film about the Mexican drug trade, took delight in shocking the Cannes elite with a torture scene that depicted a young man having his penis set on fire (CGI thankfully). His response was typically blunt, calling his critics cowards, asking them to visit Mexico to view how violence is so graphically portrayed in the media. Moving into quasi sci-fi territory, Escalante is in no mood to water down his direct approach and keeps the themes very much planted in his home country.
After the opening shot silently focusses on an ominous looking meteor drifting through space, the following scene certainly lets you know that something strange is afoot. The camera slowly pulls back to show Veronica (Simone Bucio) completely naked, slumped against the wall as she recovers from a moment of sexual ecstasy. What we see at the bottom edge of the screen isn’t something you'd find in the Fifty Shades chronicles, but even at this early stage revealing what it is would probably give away too much.
This odd experience is something Veronica's been enjoying since she was a young girl, visiting this rundown cabin in the middle of the Mexican countryside, overseen by a strange old couple whose intentions are never truly made clear. Whether Veronica is compelled or naturally drawn towards finding others to bring back to the cabin isn’t exactly apparent either. This remains a disappointing undercurrent that runs through the entire film. The motivations behind many of the characters actions rarely seem to make sense, and the mystery Escalante keeps cocooned within the cabin never marries with the family members tentatively connected to it.
Meanwhile, Alejandra's (Ruth Ramos) troubles with her husband Angel (Jesus Meza) play out in the city, while Veronica arrives on the scene to further complicate matters. Alejandra’s gay brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio) is having an affair with Angel and Escalante makes a point of showing their sexual intimacy, no doubt flipping up a middle finger in the direction of Mexico's rampant homophobia. In that regard the film feels timely, given President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent proposal to legalise same-sex marriage. Once the family unit breaks down and Fabian is inexplicably killed, Escalante escalates the body horror through the sexual energy being transmitted via the distant cabin. It's not only the humans that succumb to this overwhelming desire, with one shot trawling across a Noah's Ark collection of animals swamped in a mud pit getting down and dirty in more ways than one.
Despite his fondness for bashing his audience over the head, Escalante keeps his metaphor for homophobia and female sexual repression locked far away from the human drama, never connecting the two with any sense of potency. The muted colours of Alejandra’s world show a woman whose spirit has been drained by her marriage to an oaf of a husband and you begin to share that same dull frustration as the film meanders on. The freakiness of the opening sequence is more than enough to get the brain cells whirring but the films failure to capitalise on that jump start eventually sees it weighed down by its own stubborn ambiguity.