The opening scene in writer/director Chino Moya’s Undergods sets the tone for the chilling and impactful line-up of stories that follow. K (Johann Myers) and Z (Géza Röhrig) travel around in a desolate urban landscape. The two men collect bodies and swap tales during their travels.
This setting and characters provide a framework that surrounds three main stories of society before its demise. The first tale features a couple living in a new high-rise building. They believe they are the only residents until a stranger shows up at their door claiming to be locked out of his own apartment. The husband and wife let this man into their home, only to find out he is not a resident. As one can imagine, consequences follow.
There’s a nice transition from the first story into the second. A father and daughter on a tour of the apartment complex return to their current home, and the daughter asks for a story. This leads us into the second vignette of the film, featuring a wealthy businessman and his daughter. In this tale, the businessman dismisses an opportunity presented by a mysterious foreigner, only to discover that he should’ve taken the deal. His greed leads him to lose one of the few things he loves aside from money.
The final story is arguably the most engaging. Dominic (Adrian Rawlins) and Rachel (Kate Dickie) live with Rachel’s son from a previous relationship. Their home is in an idyllic setting and Dominic has just received a promotion. Life seems great when suddenly Rachel’s former love arrives at their home after he disappeared years ago. What follows is an intimate portrait of a family’s downward spiral.
Undergods has many strengths. It is atmospheric, with a crumbling urban landscape and cold, dark tones that set the mood. The post-apocalyptic world is bleak, but there’s also a dash of warmth that arises within the stories. This comes from the focus on relationships, which is the film’s, true heart. Each tale is unique, but all feature the disintegration of familial relationships. We’re never told what led to the downfall of society, but there’s an underlying message that it was ultimately due to humanity’s worst traits taking over.
The acting is solid across the board, however, the real standouts are Adrian Rawlins and Kate Dickie. Their performances are heartfelt and pull the viewer into their story with a sense of empathy built by a believable display of emotion. Their story is the best of the bunch and perfectly placed at the end of the film.
A few aspects took away from a perfect viewing experience. The score has an ’80s synth vibe, and while the decor in certain stories hints at the decade, this music didn’t always fit with the post-apocalyptic vibe. At times, it’s somewhat overpowering and leads to frequent volume adjustment between music and dialogue. The stories are not equally strong. The second was less interesting, mainly because it went a bit too long. The transition between this story and the last was also not as smooth as others.
In the realm of dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories, Undergods holds its ground as a memorable film. The grit and emptiness brought on by the fallen society are balanced by stories with depth. As a debut, this is a solid film and hints at more quality work to come from writer/director Chino Moya.
7 out of 10