Review: Undergods

Written and directed by Chino Moya, an otherworldly journey through a Europe in decline – a collection of darkly humorous, fantasy tales about ill-fated characters and doomed fortune. Starring: Johann Myers, Géza Röhrig, Michael Gould, Hayley Carmichael, Ned Dennehy, Khalid Abdalla, Eric Godon, Tanya Reynolds, Tadhg Murphy, Jan Bijvoet, Kate Dickie, Sam Louwyck, Adrian Rawlins, Slavko Labovic and Jonathan Case.

One of the aspects that stands out immediately with this film is the work by cinematographer David Raedeker (The Souvenir), it captures the bleak settings of its stories with a strong almost unsettling atmosphere. It works well alongside the directorial style to allow the visual to linger on shots that expose the well-chosen locations which reflect its stark and cold themes. Moya’s directorial style is very consistent in its movements, there’s no unnecessary rushing or attempts at cheap style, it’s purposeful and pensive, again taking the time to explore the surroundings and take in a lot more than just its characters to build a tangible environment which enhances the atmosphere that it creates.

Visually is where the film succeeds but unfortunately the writing is another story, there are some sparks of potential: moments that hold tension, suspense, thrill but they are scattered among a fractured and frustrating story. The choice to slightly overlay the stories rather than have them told as an anthology was a risky one, and one that doesn’t pay off, they simply aren’t connected enough or with smooth enough transitions for it to work. The resulting story lacks any strong focus and struggles to really hold your attention throughout as there’s little to keep you invested. There’s also a few aspects which seem forgetful, for instance one of the stories is initially presented as being told by a father to his young child but then involves violence and prostitutes which leads you to believe there’s either something else at play that isn’t sufficiently explained or that element has been completely overlooked. Additionally, the story of K (Meyers) and Z (Röhrig) feels incidental, they come in and out of other people’s stories, almost interlopers of the film which interestingly opens the potential of having instead used them as narrators which would have put the pieces together more tangibly, something it sorely needs.

The film does have a number of flaws but the acting isn’t one of them, it’s an extremely varied bunch of characters with most of the cast being provided with individual challenges that they all rise to. A few of them stand out along the way, particularly Kate Dickie who provides a real emotional change and depth despite the limited timeframe, as well as Adrian Rawlins who plays her husband (you may recognise him from his role as James Potter), he really throws everything at this character, to the point where it’s uncomfortable. Eric Godon and Tanya Reynolds also have a fantastic chemistry as father and daughter, their story unfortunately devolves into something fairly vague and messy but the moments that they share onscreen have a great energy.

Undergods presents itself as a bleak fairy tale, a winding road of dystopian fantasies but it’s one without a clear destination. The direction and cinematography work extremely well together to create a sharp, stark and affecting visual but it sadly isn’t supported by a story that reflects that consistency. There simply isn’t enough of either a connection or separation from each chapter to create a flowing story, it’s lost somewhere in the middle creating a muddled feature that struggles to hold your attention. It held a great deal of potential but it seems confused about what story it’s trying to tell or what it’s trying to say.

Verdict: ✯✯

Currently screening as part of Fantasia Fest – Check out the trailer below!

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