If you take away the Ridley and Tony Scott films that the imprint was created to deliver, the Scott Free brand still offers plenty of distinctive and unusual films, from Jake Scott’s Morgan to Zal Batmanglij’s The East. Chino Moya’s sci-fi smorgasbord is a good example of the house style; a director with something to prove, an innovative, original, and slightly non-commercial narrative, and a very slick execution. Whether these films make money or not, they certainly make an impression, and provide a useful step-forward for genuine talents that the Scott family recognise as worth showcasing. And Moya is a genuine talent; while some will be frustrated by Undergods and the radical, unsatisfying nature of the narrative, it’s also the kind of imaginative, uncompromising work that bodes well for the dystopian future ahead.
Where to begin; this might be a portmanteau film in the old Amicus style, except the separate narratives are deliberately fractured. Two men tell each other stories as they drive around in a truck full of corpses. A father tells a bed-time narrative to his daughter. But the stories they tell are all filed under H for Home Invasion. Couple Ron (Michael Gould) and Ruth (Hayley Carmichael) are terrorised when they allow a locked-out neighbour (Ron Dennehy) to share their apartment in a desolate high-rise. Another couple (Kate Dickie and Adrian Rawlins) fare badly when the woman’s ex-husband returns in a catatonic state. The stories interlink and bleed into each other; another features a father who enlists the help of his daughter’s boyfriend when she’s kidnapped, only to find himself dropped into a feral underworld, and that narrative seems to be the one which most thoroughly explores the odd world seen here and connects up with the rest.
Fresh from a breakout screening at the Fantasia Festival, Undergods is grim, and it’s no surprise when the Queen of Grim, (Kate Dickie from The Witch and Red Road) turns up and gives another typically arresting performance here. But Moya’s film is also meta as-all-get-out, and recalls The Sargasso Manuscript in the way the narrative strands coil in and out of each other, leaving the viewer scrabbling to assign meaning to the imagery. And what’s that, a few blasts of throbbing vapourwave might help wash the whole thing down? That’s exactly what you get.
Moya clearly never saw a filth-encrusted savage dystopia he didn’t like, and Undergods has plenty of Ballardian sci-fi tropes to play with. Sexual menace is usually a problem when depicted in movies, but Moya handles the tricky material with some skill, and the film never goes OTT in its desire to shock. General audiences may find the lack of a clear resolution problematic, but those seeking for the next big thing in sci-fi should start here. Undergods is proper sci-fi, brooding, threatening, compelling and with an uncomfortable edge that knocks you into the middle of next week.
From May 7 2021, Undergods will be released day-and-date; in select US cinemas nationwide and On-Demand simultaneously, and from May 17th in the UK. Links to follow. A limited-edition Blu-ray and vinyl soundtrack are also planned for later in the year. Thanks to October Coast for access.