Glasgow Film Festival 2021 Review: Undergods

Eerie apocalyptic anthology Undergods presents three ill-fated stories capturing a Europe and its middle-classes in decline. Writer-director Chino Moya packs these tales with a sinister black humour as his character’s paths intertwine in these grisly, unsettling and lingering tales.

Opening with a rippling synth-score, Undergods sees a post-apocalyptic Europe – buildings still stand and people still work, yet there is an eerie sense of isolation that simmers throughout the tales we see. Tied together with an enveloping narrative exploring K and Z, two men who roam the streets gathering corpses or hunting for fresh meat to be sold to grimy workhouses, Undergods features three interconnected shorts.

The opening segment follows a dull middle-class couple Ron (Michael Gould) and Ruth (Hayley Carmichael) living in a mid-construction block of flats. On a snowy night a stranger – previously unknown neighbour Harry (Ned Dennehy) – tells them he has been locked out his flat. Begrudgingly Ron welcomes him in, but over the course of the weekend Harry begins creeping under Ron’s skin – working his way into the couple’s life. A night of alcohol and building tensions results in dramatic consequences. Clinical staging in the darkened contemporary flat brings a sense of claustrophobia that makes this a hugely uncomfortable tale to watch. There’s a sense of the broken man about Ron, whilst Ruth feels somewhat dissatisfied and deflated – channelled with pitch perfect energy by the performers. The gradually building tension is expertly executed by Moya who crafts an unsettling, sombre tone throughout this morose short.

After a gory tie in at the end of the first shot, we are introduced to Undergods second story which centres around European businessman Hans Hall (Eric Godon). With only his withering fortune and his daughter in his life, Hans is approached by a curious foreign businessman (Jan Bijvoet) with a full-proof plan for success. Swayed by greed, Hans promises a collaboration then ignores the correspondence of the foreigner, until his daughter goes missing. Capturing a near depression-era central Europe, Choya crafts an atmospheric setting with the help of stark cinematography from David Raedeker  – yet the story here feels unrestrained and lacking any real sense of direction. With a disconnect between events, the story morphs into a strange hunt for Hans’ daughter with her new boyfriend towing along – which does not feel like a natural fit for this previous dark fairy-tale inspired narrative. Whilst Godon is impressive in the short, the ending feels largely unsatisfying and out-of-keeping with the tone of the rest of the story.

The final segment sees Sam (Sam Louwyck) escape after decades in a curious interment camp, returning to his family home and wife Rachel (Kate Dickie) who has since moved on with a new husband Dominic (Adrian Rollins). This pitch-black domestic drama is probably the most tongue-in-cheek of the segments, with Dominic’s man of the house status threatened by the return of Rachel’s now mute, Frankenstein’s Monster-esque husband. His fascination with his work at the soap business and unsatisfied wife takes tropes of domestic banality and pairs them with this extreme post-apocalyptic narrative for bleak, yet interesting results – culminating in an awkward drunken incident at his boss’s birthday party. This satirical slant at domestic triviality and middle-class superiority complexes, like most of Undergods, comes to a grisly end.

The dark cautionary tales in Undergods benefit from the consistency of Moya’s directorial style – lingering, voyeuristic, unsettling and trickling along at a steady pace. Stark and bleak cinematography helps crafts a fitting atmospheric to match the tone of these twisting and turning macabre narratives, however, there is a sense of disconnect within the world they inhabit. It is a challenge to connect the shabby contemporary aesthetics of story one with the grand central European darkness of the second act, whilst the slightly more domestic suburban aesthetics of the third tale feel like a further disconnect.

With its more impressive segments being those which bookend the film, Undergods is an undeniable mixed bag. Moya has a clear vision with the unsettling tone of these stories, yet their narrative paths can somewhat feel out of place.

Undergods is playing as part of the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival from 26 February – 1 March. You can get hold of a ticket here.