Undergods (2020) – Film Review
Director: Chino Moya
Cast: Kate Dickie, Ned Dennehy, Geza Rohrig
by @Roger Crow
Films, like jokes, should have a start, a middle and an end. Viewers, like attendees at a stand-up gig, are happy to go along for the ride, as long as there’s a pay-off.
But what if there is no punchline? What if there’s is no middle or end? Just a series of set-ups? Well, that’s what you get with Undergods, a series of short stories bookended by a couple of guys driving a van through a dystopian, concrete wasteland.
A minute of this is tiring on the eyes, so there’s some relief when we cut to the tale of a couple in an apartment block who ‘welcome’ a stranger into their home. Before long he’s outstayed his welcome; the wife and the stranger get on a little too well together, and the resulting tension leads to a pay off where some might be wondering if that’s it? (Inside Number Nine had covered similar ground far more effectively a few years ago).
There’s also a tale in which a dad tells his daughter a bedtime story, which is phenomenally grim. She says she thinks it’s boring, but he tells her (aka the audience) to stick with it. We should have listened to the girl. It’s grim, makes little sense and paves the way for a final tale which mirrors the first story.
“Well put together”
Again, the story goes nowhere slowly, and the closing shot is reminiscent of the opener.
Undergods feels like a film made by committee, or a movie that was given a grant because there was a surplus of cash from some government body. The fact it has more than a dozen producers should have set alarm bells ringing. A case of ‘too many cooks’.
It’s well put together, and the cast, including the ever reliable Burn Gorman and Kate Dickie, do their best with the material. Relative newcomer Tanya Reynolds is also very good, even if she is wasted in support. Exec producers Luke and Jake Scott, sons of Ridley Scott, have been in the film making business for years, but this is not their finest work.
The score is reminiscent of Vangelis’s atmospheric cues on Blade Runner, and I’m guessing there are a few nods to that movie with a story within a story about a guy who falls for a robot girl (like Deckard fell for Rachel) and a man who sells eyes (Replicant-maker Chew). There’s also a feeling of Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece Brazil; the pastel-coloured scenes feel straight out of that Orwellian nightmare; a random moment with a roller skater is pointless and a tad voyeuristic.
It might also be coincidence that some characters are called Sam (Brazil), Maria (Fritz Lang’s iconic Metropolis) and Rachel (Blade Runner), or it might be me reading too much into it; the lack of narrative pay-off means you have to read something into it, as the writer seems to have grown bored half way through each story.
If it hadn’t been put together so well, then it would be easier to write off, but there are flashes of interest here. Alas, it’s like doing a jigsaw which takes 90 minutes, and then you discover several pieces are missing, so whatever the ’finished’ picture should have been makes no sense.
Writer/director Chino Moya is a name to watch in the future, though like any rookie feature screenwriter/director who honed their skills on commercials and pop videos, he forgot the most important rule of coherent film-making is having a sense of closure. And yes, several bookended stories still need to work on their own terms and within the body of the movie.
If he can craft a film with a start, a middle and an end, then all the better. Sadly this is one of the most frustrating, depressing and annoying films you’ll see all year. Less a case of Undergods and more Oh My God!