Like most great films, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed is best left discovered rather than discussed. That said, I'll give it a shot: it’s bizarre, breathtaking filmmaking, sexy and profound, perfectly entertaining at surface value but with plenty more going on beneath.
Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and Ángel (Jesús Meza) are married with two small, ridiculously cute sons. This is not a happy marriage. Alejandra is mostly quiet, taking on the lion's share of the household chores without complaint, though Ramos' large, solemn eyes telegraph her dissatisfaction. Ángel is macho and homophobic, outwardly disapproving of Ale’s sweet, gay brother Fabián (Eden Villavicencio) while secretly carrying on an affair with him. The dynamics among this dysfunctional family, also including Ángel’s battle-axe mother, would make for a fascinating film in and of itself, but The Untamed is just getting started.
Before we’re introduced to a typical morning in Ale and Ángel’s household, The Untamed opens with two staggering scenes: a meteor silently, inexorably, tunnels through space toward our planet, and a young woman (Simone Bucio’s Verónica) lies back against her elbows on a mattress on the floor, moaning with pleasure as she’s fucked by a giant tentacle. These are the opening scenes of The Untamed, mind you.
Escalante doesn’t hide the allusions to Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession - the creature here is quite similar, and the 1981 film actually gets a dedication in the credits - but the parallels go beyond mere (mere?) tentacle sex. Like Possession, The Untamed takes this shocking, monstrous sexual taboo and uses it to say something about unwholesome relationships, jealousy, the ways we fulfill ourselves when our partners aren’t doing that for us. Unlike Possession, The Untamed also confronts traditional Mexican social constructs like toxic masculinity and homophobia.
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on here, and that’s without even getting into the real nitty-gritty, the moments and reveals that must not be spoiled, including a scene so tremendously, magnificently weird that everyone who spoke to me after the film immediately asked, “What about that one scene?” When you see The Untamed, you’ll know the one.
The performances are excellent, especially Bucio and Ramos, who each carry a presence of such stunning emotion and pathos that you can forget you’re watching a science fiction film about tentacle sex. Of course, The Untamed is about much more than tentacle sex, and Ramos in particular will never let you forget it. Alejandra’s story is so personal, set in stark opposition of this vivid, curious world.
A world brought to life by Manuel Alberto Claro’s striking cinematography. The Untamed cuts from moments of small, cramped, unhappy home life to startlingly verdant pastoral scenes, a cabin nestled in a forest, home to the primitive being that brings sexual fulfillment to all who seek it. Ale’s urban life feels so bleak next to the satisfaction she receives in those woods, and the visual contrast is as glaring as day from night.
Despite its respectful nods to Possession, The Untamed is a film entirely of itself. It's a special sort of weird, one that should not be missed.