There are no talking foxes in Amat Escalante’s latest whatist, but chaos still reigns.
And though “La región salvaje” translates literally as “The Wilds,” one struggles to imagine a more fitting title for this surreal erotic thriller than “The Untamed.” The Mexican auteur, who last divided audiences with the punishing “Heli” (for which he won Best Director at Cannes), takes a cue from Andrzej Żuławski’s “Possession” in his tentacled pulse-pounder about the pain and pleasure of love in all its forms. This is the kind of experience that might tell you more about yourself as both a viewer and a person than you’re comfortable knowing; it’s also the most alluringly strange movie of the year so far.
It’s frequently beautiful, too, with cinematographer Manuel Alberto Claro (who also lensed “Nymphomaniac”) capturing the strange goings on and foggy environs in all their alien glory. “The Untamed” opens on a meteor in space before cutting to the naked body of a young woman who appears to have just finished copulating with a rather large tentacle. Say hello to Verónica (Simone Bucio), whose intergalactic love affair somehow isn’t the most bizarre romantic entanglement in the film.
That distinction belongs to a woman named Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), her outwardly homophobic husband Ángel (Jesús Meza) and her gay brother Fabián (Eden Villavicencio), as the latter two are engaged in an affair that eventually turns violent — and sends the family unit’s already-delicate balance into orbit.
The actual plot alternates between the quotidian (a discussion about which parent will pick up the kids from pre-school) and the fantastical (an animal orgy near the meteorite’s point of impact), but the vibe always learns toward the uneasy. “The Untamed” is not unlike “Post Tenebras Lux” in that sense, as Escalante’s concern for fragmented families is very much in tune with that of his countryman Carlos Reygadas (even if he’s rarely as overtly abstract).
“It’s the most beautiful thing you’ll see in this life,” Veró tells Fabián of what she’s discovered out in the woods. “In the whole universe maybe. Nothing will ever be the same.” He responds to his new friend by telling her he’s nervous; she replies, not so comfortingly, by assuring him that “it’s going to like you.” Veró herself is an otherworldly being, the kind whose mind seems filled with constellations all its own and seems unbothered that most others either can’t or won’t hum on the same frequency, as well as the film’s most intriguing presence (whether human or otherwise).
There remains the fact that at the heart of this all is a monster straight out of the weirdest porn you’ve never seen, but “The Untamed” never devolves into a sideshow or hollow provocation. The extraterrestrial element disappears for a good long while as domestic concerns come to the fore, though talk of lucid dreams and the appearance of an ominous-looking black dog ensure that our sense of unease never dissipates.
Like Ale and Veró, though, our anxiety is always mixed with curiosity and the feeling that whatever might be out there is worth seeking out. “The Untamed” is never as alluring as when people are speaking of that which resides in the wilderness, and in us as well: “It’s never going to disappear; it’s only going to perfect itself.” We want to see what that might be, even and especially if we’re afraid of beholding it.
The film’s deeds make good on such words, with brief glimpses of the pleasure-giving entity raising more than just eyebrows. This force is described as primitive, but really it’s a kind of longing, both sexual and romantic, for the sort of intimacy that can only be found among friends and family. Once it wraps its tentacles around you, “The Untamed” doesn’t let go — and you might not want it to.
“The Untamed” premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, where Amat Escalante won Best Director. It arrives in theaters courtesy of Strand Releasing on July 21.
Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.