The Untamed (La región salvaje)
Mexico (2016) Dir. Amat Escalante
So you thought tentacle porn was an exclusive province of the Japanese? Mexican auteur Amat Escalante has news for you with a curious, beguiling film which, if it was presented by the long running kids TV show Sesame Street it would be brought to us by the letters W, T and F.
Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) is a young housewife bringing up her two infant children with brutish husband Ángel (Jesús Meza), who is having an affair with Alejandra’s brother Fabián (Eden Villavicencio), a nurse at the local hospital. One day Fabián treats a young woman Verónica (Simone Bucio) for a nasty wound on her torso and after a few repeat visits, they seem to hit it off.
With everyone unhappy in their relationships, Verónica encourages Fabián to join her in the country where she promises to show him something beautiful. The next day Fabián is found unconscious, naked, and badly bruised. Ángel is arrested and jailed for this, his affair having been exposed but even after learning her husband is innocent, Alejandra uses this as the break to start a new life with her sons.
I know what you are thinking – what has this got to do with tentacle porn? To be honest this could have been a relationship drama about homophobia and empathy towards gay people as fellow human beings, since the inspiration for this film was a news story about a dead gay man with the headline “Faggot Drowns”. Shocked at the lack of empathy of the article, Escalante made The Untamed in response.
Escalante wanted to also explore human emotions and sexual desires and the bi-sexual hook not being enough, he went for a third option, introducing a sexual partner that is devoid of human feelings yet offers pleasures of the flesh people crave – it just happened to come from outer space and resembles a writhing mass of oily tentacles attached to a faceless head.
This one-man gangbang currently resides in a shed of an old couple (Oscar Escalante and Bernarda Trueba) living in a remote area in the countryside. Arriving on earth via a meteorite as seen in the opening image, Escalante immediately introduces the voracious pleasure seeker – and pleasure giver – in the second shot of the film, one of its tentacles removing itself from a suitably satisfied Verónica’s nether regions.
It is an hour before we see the creature again; the interim spent detailing the unfolding drama leads the principals to the amorous alien. The marriage between Alejandra and Ángel is hanging by a thread, Alejandra staying with Ángel for the sake of the kids. The boys seem to like uncle Fabián a lot, but not as much as Ángel, whose clever method of disguising his affair is to be openly homophobic whenever Fabián’s name is mentioned.
When Fabián decides he has betrayed his sister enough, he breaks things off with Ángel, incurring an angry reaction. Enter Verónica whose body is wearing down at being unable to satisfy the alien and thinks Fabián would make for a suitable replacement. Fabián was unfortunate in not being compatible with the calamari Casanova, but luckily has a sister who left her recently jailed husband and is missing out on a sensual and fulfilling sex life.
Yet it is unfair to suggest this story is all about sex – even if it does contain a bizarre tableau of a mass animal orgy! It’s also about desire, addiction and gender equality but Escalante’s narrative is too obtuse is making this clear. The alien could just as easily produce a drug like substance to create ecstasy and the story is the same, but that would be less shocking and fewer people would be talking about this film.
So, the story takes on the topic of domestic abuse and infidelity to discuss sexual politics which will be the dividing issue for audiences, who will either support Alejandra in finding her pleasure in the (many) arms of the alien, or repulsed by the notion and depiction of interspecies fornication. Ángel and his interfering mother are such heels it is natural the audience will want Alejandra to experience happiness again.
Then there is Verónica, sacrificing her own pleasure with the alien by recruiting her replacements to give back what it gave to her. Yet it is tearing her up that her body is no longer able to satiate both their desires, and being sidelined ostensibly as a spectator is bittersweet for her. This unwittingly puts Alejandra in another love triangle but one of mutual consent and less deception but pain is still being felt.
Escalante’s intent to deride homophobia in Mexico is supplanted in the latter half of the film as the focus shifts to the importance of female pleasure and fulfilment being more than motherhood or domesticity. The alien I suppose represents the “other man” able to give a woman what she wants if her partner is too consumed with his own pleasure, but others may interpret this differently.
Given the story, the lead roles are demanding but Ruth Ramos and Simone Bucio are up for the challenge and meet it head on. Ramos is believable as Alejandra, her purity never compromised even when her sexual awakening becomes her redemption. Bucio’s Verónica carries herself with a transfixing air of mystery and ambiguity, her wonderfully expressive eyes subtly telling a tale of sadness and yearning, a lost soul in love with love.
Depending on how dense you like the narrative in your arthouse films and how much you enjoy boundaries being pushed, Escalante has either created a bold and unique essay on modern sexual politics or is simply out to shock because he can. He has however, made a good-looking film built around atmosphere and the unspoken allure of sensual body language that can also be seen as a domestic drama with perverted sex.
Therefore, The Untamed is a film likely to be appreciated rather than enjoyed, deserving kudos for its creative audacity.