Category Archives: period piece

Review: The Untamed

Director(s)Amat Escalante
Principal CastRuth Ramos as Alejandra
Simone Bucio as Veronica
Jesus Meza as Angel
Eden Villavicencio as Fabian
Release Date2016
Language(s)Spanish
Running Time 100 minutes

The Untamed is a thought provoking story about the depths of sexuality and the way that humans have codified and defined themselves in relations to those articulations creating a disconnect between ourselves and our inner most desires. The story plays out like a well thought out Mexican drama featuring staples of the genre: secrets, the stratification of sexuality and gender, violence, inner turmoil; but adds in a extraterrestrial tentacle sex creature for good measure, giving the movie an element of visual horror and making the themes go to the next level. If you ever thought The Shape of Water needed to be creepier and more unnerving instead of romantic, this is the movie for you.

The first scene in the movie depicts Veronica, a young women, who’s in the middle of orgasming due to her alien counterpart. The creature ends up injuring her, and two elder individuals who own the farm where the creature crash landed, ask Veronica to cease relations with it . Suffering from a new wound, she finds herself at a hospital, being treated kindly by a nurse, who she slowly befriends. Meanwhile, in another part of the city Alejandra, the film’s protagonist, deals with her unhappy domestic life. Her husband, Angel (ironic I know) uses her for sexual gratification but is rarely there for her. As the two groups’ stories interconnect, what follows is a sexual journey that’s harrowing, impossible to look away from, and deeply unsettling.

The movie deals with our relations to sex and sexuality. Every character’s orientation and reasons for wanting sex are coded differently. Watching those interactions play out with the sex monster in the background creates an interesting discussion on the place of sexuality and the way it’s deployed and internalized by rational agents. There are constantly scenes that juxtapose humans with animals to highlight the differences in how each group approaches their more base desires. Add in the ideas and themes of a well-rounded drama on top of that, and suddenly you have a piece that’s teeming with nuanced discussions. This is one of the most thought provoking movies I’ve seen on sex and sexuality in a long time.

That being said, the movie never exploits it’s premise to create fantasy sex sequences for the audience. Escalante is focused on the element of sexuality, not the visual depiction and subsequently goes to great efforts to show only glimpses of the creature and sexual actions. The camera slowly moves throughout important scenes, without revealing the shocking event at play until the very end. This is visual storytelling done right. Scenes and the way they’re shot and edited lead you to certain conclusions which are subverted in a way to make you sympathize with the characters and make future decisions more shocking.

The creature is rarely ever shown, except in tidbits and pieces, so its eventual reveal is well earned and horrifying. This is a creature feature done right, and I genuinely couldn’t avert my gaze when it’s full visage came onto screen. This process of slow reveals, building tension, and letting it all explode in one final reveal feels like the process of foreplay and sexual gratification, so the entire experience feels sublime and thematically resonant.

My biggest issue with the movie is a sub-plot involving some less involved characters that never plays out as much as I wanted it too. I like how they’re incorporated thematically, but I wish they made more sense from a story perspective, because they’re the only real aspects of the movie (sans the sex alien) that aren’t grounded. There are also a few moments where characters talk a bit too much , making some of the underlying ideas a bit more heavy-handed. I love how subtle the storytelling is, so these moments bothered me more than they would most other people.

Report Card

TLDRThe Untamed combines a well-executed and thought out drama with a creature feature involving an sex alien with tentacles. It’s well paced, prefers to show rather than tell, and presents one of most interesting discourses on sex/sexuality that I’ve seen in recent years. The movie prioritizes atmosphere and mood over visceral images and jump scares, so if you like the latter you may find yourself bored by this.
Rating9.3/10
Grade A

Review: The Witch

Director(s)Robert Eggers
Principal CastAnya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin
Ralph Ineson as William
Kate Dickie as Katherine
Harvey Scrhimshaw as Caleb
Ellie Grainger as Mercy
Lucas Dawson as Jonas
Release Date2015
Language(s)English
Running Time 93 minutes

After I had first seen The Witch, I was convinced the movie I saw and the general audience saw were completely different, because there’s absolutely no way someone could see this masterpiece and walk away thinking it’s only at 58% (as per Rotten Tomatoes audience score). Eggers’s period piece set in Puritanical times is a well-crafted, deeply layered story, that examines the deterioration of an incredibly religious family that finds themselves dealing with crises of faith and the very real threat of witches in the forest around them.

There’s no time wasted establishing the stakes and rules of the world the lead family finds themselves in. After William, the patriarch, refuses to bend to his community’s religious views, decrying them as sacrilege, his family finds themselves exiled, forced to find a new home in the wilderness. Soon after disaster strikes, the family finds themselves assaulted by the presence of supernatural happenings, a sense of constant disarray, maddening paranoia, and severe blows to their faith in the Almighty.

Eggers really nails the look and feel of the New England world we find ourselves within. The costumes all feel and look accurate and the subsequent way they get dirtied or marred with impure elements makes the movie feel gritty and rugged. Dialogue is on point and you can tell that there was a lot of effort put into keeping things honest and precise. I have found the experience to be better after watching the movie with subtitles, just so I could see all the dialogue, but after reading it I can confirm it really is as good as I thought it was. All this attention to detail ensures that are no distracting anachronisms that would otherwise distract us from the drama at play. I found myself completely immersed in the world around our lead family and as a result was completely engrossed in every little moment and action. I never felt the effects of the slower pacing, because I was lost in the experience of watching the family struggle against their obstacles.

Every character is fleshed out and feels like an integral part of the world. Anya Taylor-Joy absolutely kills it as Thomasin and sells the conflict integral to her character’s core. There are tons of close-up shots of her face, each demonstrating her reaction to the events around her. She manages to balance teen angst with religious turmoil culminating in a well-developed spiritual and emotional journey. The exploration of her characters growth as a guilty “sinner” combined with the period’s treatment of women lends itself to an interesting feminist journey that offers some nuanced thoughts about community, agency, and the relationship between women and children. Ineson’s portrayal of a religious man, too fueled by his ego to compromise on what counts as scripture, but so genuinely caring for his family that he sheds tears for their sake, strikes a strange blow at expectations. You’d think someone so hotheaded that they’d let their family get kicked out of a community would be prone to bursts of rage and insolence, but William comes off as a man just trying to do what he personally thinks is best for the family, even if he’s incapable of slowing down long enough to figure out what that is. Dicke is great as the mother, Katherine, and emotes her weariness and fatigue to great effect. Her latter interactions with Joy and Ineson are some of the most dramatic moments in the movie and add to the discourse on the place of women. Scrhimshaw is great as Caleb, the middle child of the family, and absolutely steals the show in latter portions of the movie, channeling some transcendental acting in a scene you won’t soon forget. Grainger and Dawson have fairly convincing child performances and kept their own in the serious setting.

Speaking of setting , did I mention that the movie looks and sounds amazing? Mark Korven’s score is absolutely ethereal and makes moments pop when it comes into play. It never tries to take a scene over. It only exists to accompany the eerie feeling and tense atmosphere. You really notice it because the movie is silent for the most part, choosing to focus on long shots that drive home the emotions underlying the scene. The movie employs a series of closeup shots, which give you great mental pictures of what’s running through the characters’ heads. You can gaze into their eyes, notice the way their face darts and moves, and see what’s happening underneath.

Finally, the movie is rich with themes but works as a surface-level story as well. The narrative is tight and filled with believable characterization. The presence of the supernatural is confirmed early on, because the focus of the horror is the unwinding family dynamic. Each character’s relation to their faith is altered/exacerbated because of the family’s expulsion from the colony, so the whole unit experiences a discordant crisis of faith. The events in the story would be horrifying if you were a devout Christian living back in those times and living through them would be a real hell. That gives the movie a layer of historical nuance that grounds its fears into the world the characters live in. The reason I can still remember the shocking moments from The Witch is because they happen sparingly, are never done for pure shock value,and add to the theme or previous character threads. There’s a purpose to each scare which gives the movie tons of re-watch value. It’s a movie you can watch to watch, or watch to analyze, and if you’re someone who enjoys slower paced movies, there’s a lot to get out of this.

Report Card

TLDRThe Witch is a masterful period horror that examines the disintegration of an exiled Puritan family forced to find a new life for themselves in the abandoned woods. Historically accurate dialogue, immaculate costume design, an ethereal and well-placed score, and gorgeous symmetrical close ups await those of you who can deal with a slower movie that relies on atmosphere instead of jump scares. The movies treatment of religion, ideology, and feminist thought are interesting and anyone interesting in watching those ideas intersect need to give this a try.
Rating10/10
Grade A+

There’s no spoiler section- I’ll be posting a more full analysis at a later time.