Movie Review: THE UNTAMED (2017)

Before watching the latest film by director Amat Escalante, I had no prior knowledge of Escalante or his previous films. So as I began THE UNTAMED, known also as LA REGIÓN SALVAJE, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what to expect. What began as a bizarre, Lovecraftian porno actually turned out to be an important social commentary on sexual repression and aggression, inspired by true events.

The film is shot and takes place in Escalante’s hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico. The story features four main characters; A young woman, Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), who is the mother of two young boys and in a monotonous relationship, married to the overly machismo Angel (Jesús Meza) who is secretly having an affair with Alejandra’s brother, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), a male nurse at the local hospital. A mysterious young woman named Veronica (Simone Bucio) comes into their lives by way of Fabian, who she meets at the hospital when she comes in to have a “dog bite” examined (spoiler alert: it’s not a dog bite). Veronica has been having sexual relations with an otherworldly being whose purpose is to provide divine pleasure to its sexual partners, however it has the tendency to get a little rough at times (hence the “dog bite”). Over the course of the film, each character meets and has their own unique experiences with this creature, which is best described as a giant, fleshy squid-alien.

On a surface level, this film comes off as bizarre and outlandish, but at its core it truly has something important to say about sexual repression in society. Alejandra, Fabian, and Angel are all so very different, but they are all dealing with the same sexual repression in their own unique circumstances. Alejandra is in what seems to be a loveless marriage which is evident particularly in one scene where we find her in bed with her husband, Angel, who begins to make love to her from behind without even checking to see if she’s awake or in the mood first, and brings himself to completion without ever even looking his wife in the eyes. She lays there and takes it (quite literally) only to get up afterwards without saying a word and heads to the shower where she must pleasure herself because she’s clearly not satisfied with what her husband has to offer. Angel must feel the lackluster tone of their relationship as well because he also finds pleasure elsewhere, in an adulterous relationship with Alejandra’s own brother, Fabian. Although Angel finds sexual pleasure in his relationship with Fabian, he also ridicules and bullies Fabian about his sexuality, which says something about Angel’s own sexual confidence. Eventually, the imminent uncovering of truths happens when Alejandra finds out about her husband and brother’s relationship and although she is at first distraught, she finds comfort when Veronica introduces her to the creature who is able to provide pleasure like Alejandra has never experienced before. In a way, Alejandra finds herself when she finds this creature and from that moment on she is empowered to stand up for herself, probably for the first time ever.

It’s an unfortunate fact that we live in a world where many are still faced with judgment, discrimination, and oppression. Hate crimes and bullying are common occurrences and many fear for their lives simply because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. A real life example of these hate crimes provided inspiration for this film when Amat Escalante read in a local paper in his hometown of Guanajuato, Mexico that a young male nurse was drowned and killed – the newspaper headline even used a derogatory homosexual slur to refer to the victim of the grizzly crime. The homophobic nature of the article moved Escalante to tell a story that would hopefully send a message about the negative effects of repression.

The film is beautifully shot and directed, with incredible, hyper-realistic performances all around, and is set to an ominous score that perfectly matches the dreary, foggy imagery of the Mexican countryside. However, I don’t feel that THE UNTAMED will be very accessible to most. If taken at face value, the film seems to be a weird, sci-fi, Lovecraftian sex-fest, but if audiences are willing to look a little deeper and even do a little research about what truly exists at its core, there really is an important message that I think we need to see more of in film. Escalante is known for taking risks in his films and I found that to be very clear in his latest feature. I hope that his bold filmmaking inspires other filmmakers to also take bold steps and to tell the stories that need to be told; starting the difficult, scary conversations that should be happening with much greater frequency so that maybe someday we’ll live in a world where we won’t be afraid to talk about topics that were once considered taboo. Maybe if we can bring these topics to the table and make them more accessible to the masses, we can work toward a world where people can be free to be who they are without living in fear and repression.

THE UNTAMED is currently available for rent on Youtube and Google Play and will get a physical release on Tuesday, November 7th.

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