There is something inherently unnerving about finding a stranger on your doorstep. It’s the idea of something totally unfamiliar appearing in a space you know so well, destabilising the perception of your own authority. The thought that your safety depends on something utterly unknown and unpredictable behaving predictably. We sometimes get caught off guard by ultimately innocuous callers (surprise deliveries, concerned neighbours, local MPs) and we live to tell the tale, but what if these unexpected visitors were exactly as sinister as we first suspected them to be? This, among other chilling themes, is explored by Chino Moya in his directorial debut Undergods.
This feature takes us on a haunting voyage through a crumbling European dystopia where we plunge into the intertwined and equally doomed existences of three different men. Their lives are simple and uneventful, and each character is deeply and comfortably fixed in his ways. That is until the stranger enters the picture, emerging from (and in) the most unexpected of places. As one man’s life falls apart, another’s has just begun to unravel.
Undergods takes on the demanding task of setting an unpalatable scene, introducing emotionally investing characters, weaving their tragic tales together and still remaining accessible and enjoyable to the casual viewer. For the most part, it succeeds.
The scene, disturbing as it may be, is set, and is aesthetically extraordinary. Shot in a variety of brutal Eastern European locales, we are offered a glimpse of another era’s vision of the future and exactly how wrong it would have gone. Concrete blocks tower over endless asphalt, rows of identical abodes conceal domestic disunity, and big business overlords preside over murky slums in their high-ceilinged mansions. The film more than delivers on the cinematography front.
The three protagonists, despite being outwardly dull fellows and sharing just 90 minutes of screen time between them, are well-rounded and painfully sympathetic. The obstacles they each face will ignite the same emotions in all viewers; we root for them, feel rage and confusion at the strangers’ appearances as if it was our own lives they had encroached upon. Undergods masterfully highlights and capitalises on the human desire to be autonomous and unchallenged. The movie’s effort to link together the characters’ lives, however, was somewhat jarring and potentially unnecessary. Such a device is a difficult one to execute successfully and meaningfully, and while this is a fair attempt, it at times feels more like a gimmick than a plot point.
Even if Moya explores concepts that aren’t exactly original (a malicious stranger terrorises an ordinary family in Molière’s Tartuffe, and storylines collide in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas), he undoubtedly brings something new and exciting to the table. All in all, Undergods is a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking watch with striking visuals, a killer soundtrack and a harrowingly human message.
Undergods doesn’t have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Undergods here: