Resolutely unsmiling and studiously austere, “The Untamed” behaves like a quiet horror movie with a lot on its mind. Its main characters, who live in the central Mexican city of Guanajuato, are young, gloomy, attractive men and women connected by friendship, family ties and sexual longing and divided by those same things. The movie, directed by Amat Escalante from a script he wrote with Gibrán Portela, might be a dour, observant study of modern relationships among the urban middle class were it not for the presence of a slimy, many-tentacled space creature living in a cabin in the countryside.
The thing ostensibly arrived on an asteroid, but its more salient provenance is a pornographic tradition, notably but not exclusively Japanese, that occasionally slithers into the cinematic mainstream. The alien, whose gender is indeterminate, is awesome in bed, though not always gentle. While its partners, male and female, experience inexpressible and addictive bliss in its company, some of them also suffer grievous and even fatal injuries.
The first one we meet is Verónica (Simone Bucio). While being treated for an alien-sex-related mishap she pretends is a dog bite, she befriends Fabián (Eden Villavicencio), a nurse. His sister, Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), is married to Ángel (Jesús Meza), a drunken macho sad sack who is having an affair with Fabián. Fabián, encouraged by Verónica, finds his way to the extraterrestrial love shack (which is tended by a sweet, hippie-ish older couple). But it’s Alejandra, neglected by Ángel and stressed out by their two young sons and Ángel’s domineering mother, who seems like the most likely victim. Or lover. Or whatever you call it.
Mr. Escalante’s previous film, “Heli,” was about a factory worker caught up in Mexico’s drug violence. It contains several horrific — and now notorious — scenes of brutality, but what makes those moments especially unnerving is the low-key domestic naturalism in which they are embedded. Mr. Escalante is an exceptionally deft and subtle realist, and you sometimes feel, in “Heli” and even more so in “The Untamed” that he is drawn to extremity partly out of boredom with his own skill. And so he turns a downbeat melodrama of unhappy marriage, bohemian drift and sexual duplicity into something bizarre and horrific.
There is another possibility, though, which is that “The Untamed” is not a slice-of-life tale pretending to be a monster movie, but rather a bone-dry comedy pretending to be both of those things. There is a fine line between horror and humor, and if you adjust your angle of vision accordingly, you can see the architecture of farce beneath the ornamentation of shock and suffering. The meticulous deadpan of the performances diverts attention from the absurdity of the circumstances. Fabián, Ángel and Alejandra are joined in a classic triangle, which Verónica and the alien throw into high relief even as they disrupt it.
Also: Interplanetary, interspecies sex might function better as a sick joke than an earnest metaphor. That’s a matter of taste, I guess.
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