Credit: Fantasia Fest
by Daniel Gorman Film

Undergods | Chino Moya

September 3, 2020

Undergods is a crypto-anthology film that gradually morphs into a distaff network narrative, one of those everyone-is-connected type movies that were all the rage about 15 years ago. Directed by Chino Moya and set in a vaguely futuristic, unnamed European locale, Undergods plays like a bombed-out version of Welles’ apocalyptic The Trial, with the distinct dark flavor of JG Ballard. The various segments alternate between grimy, hollowed-out factories in industrial wastelands and bland, antiseptic office buildings, visualizing a struggle between corporate drudgery and the slave labor that powers it. The first segment takes place in an unfinished condominium high-rise, as the sudden arrival of a seemingly harmless stranger facilitates the implosion of an unhappily married couple; part two involves a man telling his young daughter a bedtime story loosely inspired by E.A. Hoffman; the protagonists of that story-within-the-story segue into the third section, as prisoners toil away at some unknown, Sisyphean task that plays like a Kafkaesque nightmare. One of the nameless prisoners is eventually released and returns to his flummoxed family, who haven’t seen him in 15 years, and his wife is now remarried to a corporate drone working for some nebulous corporate entity. This last segment is the longest, and also the weakest, mining overly familiar material about office politics and masculinity in crisis. Undergods is most effective when functioning as abstract allegory, and detailing the dissolution of this familial unit requires more specificity and empathy than Moya seems willing to invest. 

Everything in the film is purposefully vague, more interested in conjuring mood than coherent narrative. But to that end, for the most part, it’s successful. Certain motifs recur: unstable couples, amorphous empty spaces, Brutalist architecture and collapsing buildings that dwarf the human body, murder, and an overall absence of what might be called naturalism. There’s an absurdity to the whole endeavor that recalls Monty Python or even the films of Roy Andersson, while the overriding sensation of encroaching doom suggests nothing more than the end of the world as we know it. If it all winds up feeling a bit pat, a little too satisfied with itself, it’s still a wild journey. Moya has a great eye, and cinematographer David Raedeker conjures a dreary, gray dystopia that never succumbs to digital fuzziness. The viewer is left with a stark portrait of a crumbling EU, and an even more bracing divide between the haves and the have-nots. Abandon all hope ye who enter.

Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2020 — Dispatch 6.