A movie about a space alien, a story about gay panic, and a vignette about the Mexican middle class, The Untamed manages to be three things at once yet is strongest, unexpectedly, as the second and third. Amat Escalante, who directed the excrutiatingly violent crime drama in 2013 called Heli, keeps matters at a quiet simmer; his attention to sociological detail makes The Untamed all the more discomfiting.
Opening with the image of an asteroid adrift in space, The Untamed traces how its eventual impact in the outskirts of Guanajuato affects wildlife and citizens. In the second scene, a nude woman in peril faces the camera as tentacles reach for her. Then a lovely dissolve: the woman, now clothed, wanders through frog but bleeds from her right side. Verónica (Simone Bucio) is the woman. Eventually she befriends, with sweet tentativeness, Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), married with boys to Ángel (Jesús Meza). The son of the factory owner that employs Alejandra, Ángel occasionally beds brother-in-law Fabián (Eden Villavicencio); in the true spirit of homophobia, Ángel assures his wife that he tolerates Fabián because he’s her brother and uncle to their children. Fabián, a doctor at the local clinic, treats Verónica for her wound, assuming at worst that a rabid dog bit her.
As we and everyone not Verónica knows, a dog had nothing to with it. The rest of The Untamed follows the machinations of the creature as it wields its influence on this bizarre love triangle. Verónica lets one of the principles in on the secret, leading to dreadful consequences. The tentacular alien, we learn, can give untold sexual pleasure, indifferent to gender and sexuality, so long as its partners don’t get too close. When Verónica tells Alejandra about it, she assumes the mien of a cult member, unreachable, interested only in recruitment. Meanwhile Escalante has wisely kept the creature mostly out of sight. Shots of tree roots and skies, to which Guro Moe’s score applies an ominous greasing, suggest the existence of these darker forces.
While Escalante works out these details with assurance, The Untamed nevertheless leaves the impression that it would rather impose the creepy-crawly stuff on material that would otherwise play well at respectable international film festivals. Moreover, the film can’t dispel the suspicion that the characters most disposed to polymorphous pleasure suffer most grievously. Too concerned with atmospherics to be funny, too well-developed as a domestic genre to give much cop to the sci-fi, The Untamed‘s ambitions are as ambivalent as the creature.