Mexican film-maker Amat Escalante’s work has included the challengingly violent crime drama Heli (2013). Now he has created a bizarre realist-fantasy parable in which queasy eroticism and body horror are absorbed into life’s many pains and injustices. It is set in Guanajuato in central Mexico, which Escalante’s movie endows with a forbidding remoteness. The original title is La Región Salvaje, or the savage region. A perplexing opening sequence, showing what appears to be a vast asteroid heading for Earth, lays the foundation for the film’s strange premise. The asteroid has brought with it a new life form which its elderly discoverers – retired people who live in a modest woodland shack – find it necessary to keep secret, rather like Mr and Mrs Kent when the baby Superman arrived.
This movie has the spirit of Buñuel in many ways, also Guillermo del Toro, and maybe even Ridley Scott’s Alien. But I found myself thinking of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, in which Céline, played by Julie Delpy, wonders what would happen if scientists invented some kind of metal probe that would give lab rats pure sexual pleasure: she imagines the wretched beasts abandoning everything, including food and water, to rub themselves against this probe all day while their little faces become increasingly addled. The Untamed is about what would happen if there was some of kind of organism, kept in captivity, that could deliver exactly this kind of pleasure; an organism in touch with a fiercer, purer, deeper and more primitive sexual pleasure of which our evolved species has up until now only ever had an unsatisfactory and partial glimpse.
The tentacular sex monster is kept secret.
It is hidden away in a woodshed and only a very few are aware of its existence,
at least partly because they are aware of its dangers:
unaware of its own strength, it can kill humans who submit to its penetrative caresses.
Escalante cleverly gives you only a reasonable glimpse at the beginning
and then keeps it away from the camera until the very end.
It materialises in the midst of a highly fraught set of human interrelations.
Verónica (Simone Bucio) is a lonely, delicately beautiful young woman
who has befriended the creature’s minders and enjoys regular experiences with the creature.
But when it gives her a vicious wound in her side, which she has to explain away as a dog bite,
she befriends the gentle, sweet gay nurse who attends to her.
This is Fabián (Eden Villavicencio), who is having a very unhappy secret affair
with Ángel (Jesús Meza), an arrogant, macho guy who maintains a boorish
and homophobic attitude in public and is consumed with self-hate.
To make things worse, Ángel is married to Fabián’s sister Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), with two children.
To help Fabián and to comfort him, Verónica lets him in on her secret.
She shows him where the creature is to be found, rather as someone might –
for the most high-minded and evangelical reasons –
try to turn someone on to LSD and open their doors of sexual perception.
The creature duly ruins Fabián’s desire for ordinary human sex,
which brings with it a dire chain of events.
It might be possible to create a version of this film in which the creature is never shown,
or in which it does not exist: a version in which the non-sci-fi realist love triangle of homophobia
and loneliness is the only thing that matters.
These are people plodding along with their lives quite accustomed
to the continual nagging state of dissatisfaction and yearning that keeps them moving forward,
like a donkey with a carrot dangled in front of it.
And for most people, of course, that carrot is sex and love.
Sex and love are the assumed ultimate pleasure and fulfilment,
the promise of which is always receding like a mirage.
What if there was something nasty in the woodshed that could deliver
that pure heroin sex-pleasure?
Something that could be kept for the purpose like livestock
and, by virtue of its non-humanness, never needed to be surrounded
with the pieties of romance or marriage or any conscientious interrelation?
Or what if this creature represents something else:
not just the pure animal pleasure we all secretly yearn for
but also the dysfunctional, painful,
unsatisfactory side of sex that we experience anyway?
Such a creature would be very dangerous. So is this one, in every literal and figurative sense.
Its huge python tentacles slither into every orifice creating an unforgettable addiction
that makes anything else the characters happen to be doing with their lives seem bland and unreal.
This film is a very sly, subversive and disturbing black tragicomedy about a universal secret addiction.