Amat Escalante takes a turn deep into the woods lately occupied by Hansel and Gretel in this brutal, mature, explicit and pondering left-turn of a film that disguises itself as a sci-fi horror, and yet focusses much more conspicuously on the small town social commentary that is obviously where Escalante’s interest lies. What’s remarkable is in how well achieved the extra-terrestrial intruder is, when we finally meet it face to tentacle.
La Región Salvaje actually translates more literally as “The Wild Place”, a much more appropriate name for a film which analogises the unsatisfied sexual organ with an unfulfilled life. And The Untamed is replete with unfulfilled lives. It starts with the friendless Verónica (Bucio), one of life’s outsiders and, as it transpires, suddenly having to cope with rejection, receiving sexual gratification from something unidentifiable and serpentine. We are then introduced to Alejandra (Ramos), a mother of two whose husband, the outwardly homophobic Ángel (Meza), is – as she will discover – having an affair with Ale’s brother Fabián, a nurse who came to the small town in which they live in order to look after his sister. The dissatisfaction that governs the lives of all is palpable, and the ironies in the ways each of them attempts to deal with it inescapable.
The unravelling of Ale’s life begins when Verónica seeks treatment at the hospital after her rejection by the unexplained creature is substantiated as an injury, coming to the attention of Fabián, whose wayward, covert and confined sexual existence is superseded by an encounter with the alien, freeing Fabián from his emotional restrictions but literalising his status as having no more value than as an inconsequential encounter. Ale then starts to investigate the violent physical assault on her brother, just as Verónica settles into her new, unrecognised status as essentially a provider of potential sexual partners for the thing that lives in a shack just outside of town.
The first two-thirds of Escalante’s slow, still and exquisitely shot film are almost entirely absorbed by Ale’s domestic situation and the incidental manner in which Verónica inveigles her way into it, and he deliberately casts two childlike, yet quietly lugubrious women as his protagonists, exaggerating the film’s theme of characters whose realities are no match for their dreams, and who will willingly surrender to multiple punishments in order to keep those dreams alive.
The Untamed – in a sensational Blu-ray transfer, which includes an 85-minute production documentary – is a stark, Catholic warning about the brutal cycle of life, and our insignificance within it. It takes the idea of the grass being greener on the other side, and examines it fully and figuratively, arriving at a depressingly honest and yet somehow beautifully expressed conclusion.
Special Features: The Making of / Escalante’s first short film Ammarados / trailer
THE UNTAMED (LA REGIÓN SALVAJE) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: AMAT ESCALANTE / SCREENPLAY: AMAT ESCALANTE, GIBRÁN PORTELA / STARRING: RUTH RAMOS, SIMONE BUCIO, JESÚS MEZA, EDEN VILLAVICENCIO / RELEASE DATE: 9TH OCTOBER