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Film Review: Undergods – Fantasia Film Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

 Writer and Director: Chino Moya

Despite the limitations of social distancing, it is still film festival season and with the London Film Festival programme announcement still days away, the Fantasia Festival takes its chance to premiere new work. Chino Moya’s debut feature Undergods offers an apocalyptic vision of social decline, the troubling complexity of white middle-class masculinity and the corrosive nature of existing modes of living.

In the streets of a ruined city, a pair of corpse collectors casually disposes of human detritus while telling stories about the old days. As three interlinked tales emerge, Moya explores greed, relationships and the failure of the capitalist vision as the fallacy of indiscriminate consumption and reputation are permanently disrupted by the introduction of subversive elements.

It is clear from Moya’s film that he is a director to watch, creating a strong vision that ties the different sections of his movie together. Visually Undergods is beautiful, David Raedeker’s photographic cinematography of desolation combined with washes of colour give the visuals a familiar yet partially distorted feel. The viewer instantly recognises the rottenness of this state with nods to classic sci-fi tropes as well as the lurid style of photographers like Myles Aldridge who comment on the unwholesome underbelly of the idealised living space.

The stories themselves gain in strength as the film unfolds, with the weakest at the start. Ron and Ruth are familiar Pinter and Beckett territory as the couple, believing themselves alone in the building, find mysterious neighbour Harry slowly invading their home. The scenario itself is enjoyably weird and unsettling but the performances feel a little stilted, never allowing the audience to be entirely taken in by plot developments despite a respected cast including Michael Gould and Ned Dennehy.

The second and third sections are much better integrated with each other and with the overarching desolation narrative. Industrialist Hans’ (Eric Godon) experience of corporate espionage is gripping as he navigates a sharp business opportunity as well as an affectionate relationship with his wilder daughter. Moya stages this in what can only be described as dystopian Victoriana, calling on elements of nineteenth-century architecture and clothing that brilliantly carry the viewer from Hans’ seemingly grand mansion to the punishing prison workhouse that transitions neatly into the final sequence.

Emerging from a lengthy spell in prison, the silent Sam (Sam Louwyck) returns to his former home where he discovers his wife has remarried. Mirroring section one but with more confidence, this story follows second husband Dominic (Adrian Rawlins) as he clings to a growing work status and suddenly appreciative boss – a wonderfully venal turn from Burn Gorman – while refusing to address the disturbance at home. Moya’s point about the emptiness of praise, the rigidities of class and false concepts of social acceptance is interesting and well executed as he explores the underlying darkness of this sitcom-like pattern of behaviour.

Undegods quite specifically sets out to focus on three white middle class protagonists and, while it is easy to lay the faults of the world at their door, the film doesn’t unpick the basis of their power or why it so easily gives way, with Moya offering no alternative option. His female characters are concerningly portrayed as inconstant victims of their own desires while the working classes are largely violent henchmen.

Moya is clearly interested in layers of narrative, nesting stories within stories. Whether Z and K (Geza Rohrig and Johann Meyers) are our reference point or, later, Octavius (the ever-wonderful Khalid Abdalla) telling his daughter the scary bedtime story of Hans and Maria, is pleasingly unclear. The film ends in a much stronger position than it starts, and while another doom-laden prophesy about the future of society may feel superfluous, Moya’s camerawork and auteur’s eye for envisaging his subject matter makes this a notable debut.

Release Date 30 August 2020

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A notable debut

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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