Undergods is another addition to the collection of anthology style movies. Written and directed by Chino Moya (Out of Here, Years & Years: Eyes Shut), its framing device is set within a cold, blasted, post-apocalyptic landscape. Truck drivers K (Johann Myers – Tribes of Europa, The Bank Job) and Z (Geza Rohrig – Son of Saul, Bad Art) spend their days driving around, searching their ruined city for people to sell, whether dead or alive. The whys, hows and wherefores of their lives are never really looked into, but that’s okay. The focus isn’t on them, it’s on their dreams and tall tales .
The first story focuses on Ron (Michael Gould – Rogue One, Wallander) and his wife Ruth (Hayley Carmichael – Overlord, Tale of Tales), the only residents inside an apartment block that’s still under construction. They are, perhaps unsurprisingly, startled when they hear a knock on their door. On opening it they find that a new neighbour Harry (Ned Dennehy – Mandy, Peaky Blinders) has been locked out of his own home on the 11th floor and needs somewhere to stay. What starts off as a simple act of neighbourly kindness swiftly spirals into something altogether more disturbing as the domineering Harry establishes himself as the cuckoo in the nest, alienating Ron and charming Ruth into seeing him as the new man of the house.
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The end of Ron and Ruth’s tale leads into the next, framed this time as a bedtime story. The focus here is on unscrupulous businessman Hans (Eric Godon – In Bruges, Legends), whose attempt to double-cross a strange foreign genius (Jan Bijvoet – The Tunnel, Peaky Blinders) and steal his revolutionary designs leads to terrible consequences as Hans’ daughter (Tanya Reynolds – Emma, Delicious) is abducted in retaliation for Hans’ theft. Hans must rely on the assistance of his daughter’s boyfriend, Johann (Tadhg Murphy – Vikings, Brassic) to find and rescue her.
The end of this story again blends into the next as we return to the post-apocalyptic wastelands. Catching up again with K and Z the next story begins with slaves inside a factory who can win something known as the “Anniversary Lottery” which sees them being freed and sent home. On this particular occasion the winner is a man known as Sam (Sam Louwyck – Cargo, Brimstone).
The rest of the story focuses on Dominic (Adrian Rawlings – Chernobyl, A Discovery of Witches) and his wife Rachel (Katie Dickie – Game of Thrones, Prometheus). Dom is utterly focused on the minutiae of his work, thinking that financial success is all that truly matters in life, neglecting her and his son while he sucks up to his boss (Burn Gorman – Torchwood, The Dark Knight) in hopes of promotion. Their lives are disrupted by the reappearance of Sam after a fifteen year absence, who, it turns out, is Rachel’s ex-husband and Rachel soon ends up focussing all her attention on her mute ex-husband rather than Dominic.
With anthology stories like this, it can sometimes be difficult to make each story feel like it truly belongs. The first and third here definitely feel very similar, with washed out colour palettes that bring to mind the deeply creepy surrounds of the film Vivarium. The middle one, meanwhile, is the odd-one out, being instead a dark and lavish period piece which, even though it leads most directly into that post-apocalyptic framing device, nonetheless feels like it doesn’t quite belong.
The themes of each story are broadly similar, with lives being disrupted and ruined by the intervention of a mysterious stranger, acts of kindness or treachery repaid with equally dire consequences. Each story picks at the trappings of civility and domesticity, peeling back the veneer to expose the rotten workings beneath. The acting is universally solid all round, but special mention has to be given to the gloriously vindictive performance from Katie Dickie, and Michael Gould’s performance as the bemused, set-upon Ron.
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The soundtrack from composer Wojciech Golczewski (Mohawk, Tonight She Comes) is heavy on the 80’s synths and is strongly reminiscent of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s work on the score for Stranger Things. It doesn’t seem to be available to stream yet, but a limited vinyl release is planned for later this year. Hopefully it will also get a digital release at some point after that. It would be good to see how it stands on its own.
While a tad uneven, as anthology stories like this often are, Chino Moya’s first full-length feature shows a whole lot of promise. There’s a firm understanding of the story he wants to tell and how he wants it to be shown. Definitely another director to keep an eye on to see what he brings us next.
Undergods is out now in selected cinemas and On Demand in the USA and Canada, and will be released in the UK on 17th May.