The world of Undergods is not a pretty one. Buildings are hollowed out and decrepit, the grime radiates off the streets, the sky is always a doom-and-gloom shade of grey. Then of course there’s the film’s welcome to the viewer: an introduction to the less-pleasant-looking – and probably smelling – K (Myers) and Z (Röhrig), partners in crime who drink gasoline and make a living collecting and selling dead bodies off the street. Not an ideal living but a normalized means of survival, which in this world is what’s most important.
K and Z are just the start of the eclectic inhabitants in this dreary European dystopia. The sort-of-anthology structure invites you into the lives of a collection of denizens, their stories not exactly intertwining, but more like each one passing the baton to the next. Each story finds its subjects contending with their increasingly cruel surroundings in vignettes that anchor them in ideas of greed, capital, and violence.
Trying to reconcile this film’s world, structure, and lofty ideas is an ambitious undertaking for a debut feature, but director Chino Moya has the chops to sell it. What sets this apart from other despondent neo-dystopias are its artful production design, elegant cinematography, and killer synth score by Wojciech Golczewski. For a world as bleak as this one it sure is a treat to look at, and paired with the electronic soundscapes it becomes easy to get swept up on a moment-to-moment basis.
The seams begin to show in the writing. The handful of stories here have interesting setups and are given ample opportunity to divulge the intricacies of the ambiguous rules of this world. However, every one of them manages to hit a meandering lull before ending with an abrupt thud.
It’s never clear what exactly the film means to say about its characters or themes either. Ostensibly focused on the unforgiving nature of capitalism and how it affects both the society and the individual, not much of this seems very productive in its commentary. Moya mostly seems content serving up brutal, but banal, reminders that things aren’t too great. No kidding, man. The moment where all the disparate threads come together to make a larger point never happens, and maybe that is the point. Whatever the case, it’s not difficult to put some of these first-feature blunders to the side for the duration to just soak in the images and get lost within its moodiness. Look past the uneven narrative and you’ll find a new cinematic voice with something to prove, and the formal prowess to back it up.
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