Chino Moya’s audacious debut film, Undergods (2020), merges recognizable dystopian tropes – ‘Eastern Bloc’ Kafkaian aesthetics – with thinly guised socio-cultural criticism of an ailing Europe. There’s a precocious playfulness in Moya’s direction; confident, deft, and – most importantly – engaging.
Moya realises a redolent world of washed out blues and greys, embellishing the film’s universe with a dour, pessimistic sensibility. The synth score further entrenches the morose tonality, emphasising dislocation with droning bass lines and fuzzy keyboard effects. It’s darker in tone than a Coens or Gilliam piece, but shares their penchant for black, offbeat humour.
Anthological in structure, Undergods connects parables through the exploits of two opportunistic officials looking to make ends meet in an inhospitable city. At times unwieldy as a metaphor for late stage capitalism, this protracted subplot loosely stitches the narrative together, giving it a vague sense of direction. The story vignettes themselves take on a reactionary slant, probing man’s precarious position at the head of the modern family.
Reduced to providers of home and hearth, the men find their wives gravitating to the ‘fun’ man or the ‘loving’ ex-husband. To compound matters, children are detached, slavishly tethered to Iphones – NEETs sans souls. The men, then, are reduced to pathetic cuckolds; but not Burn Gorman’s amoral, narcissistic boss of the final act. Amidst sycophantic clones, the underrated character actor satanically croons ‘My Way’ with a contorted confidence, as his distraught underling is drunkenly ejected from proceedings for emotionally aping his better. The boss fits the psychotic status-maximiser archetype perfectly; and is, ultimately, a kind of undergod.
The film’s sardonic officials facetiously conclude that the restoration of families is the key to reversing the film’s universe’s unravelling and societal decay. Yet this is but a forlorn dream; for the family in Undergods – once a great cog in the society of man – has made its final revolution.