The sky is an oppressive grey, stretching over a seemingly endless wasteland. Seemingly deserted buildings loom out of the fog, massive brutalist slabs of concrete. Men prowl in trucks older than sin, drinking gasoline and laughing as they collect both the living and the dead for sale. What is this strange, bleak world? A grim future? An alternate reality? Undergods offers no answers, and is largely more compelling for it. Chino Moya’s feature debut is a haunting, almost impenetrable film, one billed as a dark fantasy but that in reality resists categorization. It will leave you with more questions than answers, but if you let it suck you into its strange world, you might not end up minding that. In many ways, that mystery is part of the appeal.
The film is an anthology of a sort, telling a number of smaller stories in a sequence, each tale bleeding into the next. While nothing is clear-cut or explicit, it all revolves around a fog-shrouded world that seems to swallow unwary denizens of our reality. Other times strangers from this world enter ours, agents of some unknown purpose. There’s a theme that runs through each of these stories, a recurring pattern of banal domesticity interrupted by the appearance of a stranger. In one story, a couple takes in a locked-out neighbor for the weekend. In another, a businessman’s daughter is kidnapped after he steals the wondrous schematics presented to him by an accented stranger. In yet another, a man is released from the otherworld to return to his wife, his mind seemingly blasted into nothingness by years of menial labor.
What does it all mean? It’s maddeningly hard to say, to zero in on any one deeper meaning. While clearly separate, the two worlds share more than you might think at first glance. The denizens of what we assume to be the “real” world all seem caught in a kind of limbo, trapped in cold marriages and soul-crushingly modern homes whose impeccably clean, desaturated decoration offers little in the way of warmth or comfort. There’s meaning and subtext here, no doubt about it, but it’s subtle and no doubt very contextual. The film invites discourse and interpretation, and it will be fascinating to see how some people read it.
And even if the film’s subtext and dreamlike logic remain elusive to you, it still functions terrifically as a mood piece. Whether we’re in the other world or the “real” world, there’s a somber oppressiveness to the film, a bleakness that feels both pre and post-apocalyptic. From the color palette to the gorgeous sets to the acting. It sucks you in, lulls you into a quiet kind of fascination, and keeps you there from beginning to end, and that’s worth the price of admission alone.
Undergods leaves you with more questions than answers, but it also leaves you with that warm, satisfying feeling that you’ve just watched something singular. Its strange, compelling vision feels like the work of someone with a clear vision, clear at least to themselves if not the rest of us. Like a dream you don’t fully comprehend but keep coming back to, it sticks in your mind, demanding to be turned over and examined from every angle
- Thomas O’Connor
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 30, 2020, as part of our coverage of the Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information, visit the Fantasia Film Festival website.