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  Undergods As The World Turns Off
Year: 2020
Director: Chino Moya
Stars: Johann Meyers, 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, Jonathan Case, Burn Gorman, Simon Manyonda
Genre: Drama, Thriller, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the future, or maybe it is the present, even the past, but the world has gone to hell in a handcart and nobody has done anything about it as we simply let it slide, there is no agency anymore other than a powerful authority that rules with arbitrary orders over the citizenry of a place that is somewhere in Europe. Tower blocks are in disrepair even as new ones are built, and the new ones are in disrepair as well, trucks patrol the mostly empty streets to pick up the dead bodies of those who were not able to escape their inevitable doom, and disease is just as endemic as poverty, inequality and exploitation.

Here are three, perhaps more, stories of people existing in these conditions, each damned in their own special ways yet unable to relate to anyone else... That about sums up the tone of Undergods - the title remains a puzzle as much at the end credits as it does at the beginning - which took the dystopian world-building of something like Terry Gilliam's Brazil but refused to allow any light into the bleakness in the form of humour, it just flogged the audience with an oppressive surrealism that was nevertheless rooted in the kind of anxieties the twenty-first century inflicted on those living lives of quiet desperation, as the old saying goes.

We all know that our existences end in eventual downfall, there's no escaping that, but writer and director Chino Moya's film insisted on reminding us of this fact incessantly throughout the hour and a half it took to relate what amounted to a portmanteau of half-finished vignettes. Actually, some of them were more finished than others, indeed you could posit that all of them were if you learned the lesson of those fates we do see: by and by, all of these people are going to end up dead, and it's unlikely they will find any comfort in that. Actually, they won't find any comfort in any of this beforehand either, as the mostly middle-aged characters come unstuck.

The men are crushed by the weight of social awkwardness and uncertainty over how to assert themselves, because if they do assert themselves they will be doomed, and the women in thrall to those who would take advantage of them and what little hopes they have left. The first story saw a couple, the only ones in an entire block, welcome another man into their flat who proceeds to make himself rather too much at home for the husband's liking. When he objects, hell awaits. The second story was kind of two, perhaps three, stories combined into one patchwork that never really went anywhere except to confirm our suspicions about the worst of humanity. Bear in mind this was ostensibly a bedtime story told by a single father to his little daughter.

Therefore is naturally, wildly inappropriate (it was that sort of movie) and described a rich businessman screwing over a supposed genius for his ideas, then finding his daughter kidnapped in retaliation. He ropes in her obnoxious poet boyfriend (any artistic pretensions receive a hollow laugh here) and guess what? They end up in the same, grey, inhumane hell as before. Third up, a wife finds her ex-husband standing in the kitchen, and as he has been missing for fifteen years, she decides to tend to him with a pop psychology guru's self-help processes. Her current husband is sceptical, which affects his chances at promotion at work, aaand we're back in hell once again. With a cast who got the idea just right (Kate Dickie, Géza Röhrig, Ned Dennehy and so on, familiar faces from other things even if you can't put a name to them), the revelling in bleakness was relentless, and offputting in an edgelord fashion, yet did get under the skin since you cannot necessarily point out it was completely wrong: in that, it was a success. Music by Wojciech Golczewski.

[Undergods will be in UK Cinemas & on Digital Download from 17th May 2021. Click here to watch a clip.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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