Daring, dark and highly stylised, Undergods is the feature-length directorial debut for Spanish filmmaker Chino Moya. In it, he paints a deeply disturbing portrait of a Europe that has fallen into depravity and desolation, as two unnamed mercenaries roam the bombed-out streets and fill their van with bodies they plan to sell as slaves or instead save for their own sustenance. In order to add a touch of joie de vivre to that bitter existence, they exchange stories (real or imagined, it’s unclear) about hapless inhabitants of the world which presumably collapsed into the one they now populate.
The tone of the film is overarchingly dismal. All of the cast seem to have been chosen for their jaded appearance: bald or balding, wrinkled and overwrought, defeated by the demands of daily life, even in this pre-Apocalyptic world. There are also blackguards by the bucketload; home invaders rub shoulders with intellectual property thieves, while drunken lechers and vainglorious but vapid dandies with no backbone or moral fibre stumble between the different worlds outlined on screen. Unscrupulousness is most certainly the order of the day.
The actors embrace these roles with accomplishment, featuring a full roll call of “Oh, it’s him!” and “Where do I know her from again?” familiar faces. Particular standouts include Eric Godon (In Bruges), Tanya Reynolds (Sex Education), Kate Dickie (Red Road), Adrian Rawlins (Chernobyl) and Jan Bijvoet (Borgman), though no one puts a notable foot wrong for the duration. The fragmentary nature of the narrative, weaving in and out of the lives of its unhappy dramatis personae at will, makes it a little difficult to become overly attached to any one character, but the aforementioned acting chops do enough to keep us compelled.
The soundtrack and cinematography are also a feast for the ears and eyes, with grand synth scoring accompanying sweeping shots of a city fallen into the abyss. The vague connections between the different threads are enjoyable if not entirely satisfactorily explained, and the constant doom and gloom (without much in the way of humour to lighten the load, even in a dark variety) does become slightly overwhelming by its conclusion.
More than anything else, it’s unclear what Moya is trying to say with the movie: is it a grim prediction of tomorrow? A wake-up call warning us to prevent it from occurring? Or simply a macabre muse on the darker elements of the human psyche? The latter seems most likely, and though it’s engaging enough stuff, its complete lack of a moral centre leaves the viewer feeling somewhat unfulfilled at the final curtain.
Screened as part of Fantasia Festival 2020