Undergods (2020), directed and written by Chino Moya in his feature directorial and writing debut, is an otherworldly journey through a Europe in decline – a collection of darkly humorous, fantasy tales about ill-fated characters and doomed fortune.
This film essentially functions as an anthology as there are several different stories told that are very loosely connected with similar thematic elements and they occupy the same universe. I think one of the best parts of the film was the way in which it weaved the various stories together. The transitions from story to story felt very organic and made for an experience that didn’t just feel like a typical anthology film, where it’s very clear where one story ends and another begins. It also made the stories feel much more grounded in the same universe. Speaking of, I felt that the universe that the filmmakers created here was very interesting. It introduces us to this super impoverished part of Europe in which people are picked up off the streets in this city which has become an industrial wasteland. It’s an extremely interesting setting and presented in such a beautiful way. This film is incredibly atmospheric and features some extremely stellar cinematography from David Raedeker (My Brother the Devil, “Misfits”). This film is absolutely dripping with atmosphere and gorgeous framing that really highlights the size and scope of this world. Even in the less interesting segments of the story when we are in a house, Raedeker really allows the camera to just linger on a specific frame. It’s a really beautiful shot, especially when we were in the world with K and Z, which is partially why I wish we spent more time there as it was so beautiful and the scope really came across.
The acting overall was very good. I think the two stand outs were Adrian Rawlins (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, “Chernobyl”) as Dominic and Kate Dickie (Prometheus, The Witch) as Rachel who were the two stars of one of the last stories. They both had a lot of emotional range, especially in playing into the very complex situation both characters are in. I also really connected with the chemistry between Eric Godon (In Bruges, Anna) who played Hans and Tanya Reynolds (“Sex Education,” Emma.) who played Maria and I wish those two characters had more screen time together. I also really liked Johann Myers (The Medallion, The Bank Job) and Géza Röhrig (Son of Saul, To Dust), and I wish that their characters, K and Z respectively, had more screen time as I felt they were definitely the most interesting of all the characters in the film.
This leads me to one of the biggest issues with the film, in that the stories themselves are not very interesting. The first story especially was very flat and connected very little with the overarching world and themes of the film. I think this is why I wanted more of K and Z because I felt that their story was the most interesting and gave some real insight into this world. Unfortunately, maybe for budgetary reasons I do not know, but most of the focus was not on them, or more specifically that aspect of the world they were a part of, until the end of the second story and the last story. I think why that is a big disappointment is because outside of that aspect of the world, the stories are painfully average. The first one is essentially about a man who thinks his wife is cheating on him, and the second one, at least until the end, is essentially about a man who makes a bad business deal and his daughter gets tangled up in the consequences he faces because of that. At the beginning we are introduced to K and Z and to this world, which hooks us into thinking this story will be about this world. But then we are placed into two stories which have very little to do with that world. It’s not till more than halfway through in which we see K and Z again. This is why the last of the three main stories is the most interesting because it connected the most to that original idea we were introduced to.
In general I think another issue with the three stories is that they all end essentially the same way. Maybe that was intentional and that was supposed to mean something, but it just came across as very monotonous and not super impactful, especially after the third time another story ends that way. There were also a few aspects of the stories that feel very incomplete. For example, the second story is introduced with a father telling his daughter a story about this greedy businessman. But then, the daughter falls asleep and so the father stops telling the daughter the story, and then the story the father was telling the daughter just continues. And that’s the last we see of the father and the daughter. So it really begs the question why they were introduced in the first place and if they were not able to transition the stories in another way. There’s also a lot that’s confusing with The Foreigner (played by Jan Bijvoet), who is the one Hans makes the shady business deal with. His set up as well as the role Maria plays is never really resolved at the end and it begs the question on what his goal was. The second ending, though it connected to the more interesting aspect of this world, was a bit confusing whether The Foreigner and Maria’s fates were meant to be unsatisfying or not.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 Stars
Undergods (2020) has a lot to offer. Nice pacing, a unique anthology style, a very striking world with some interesting little bits of world-building, all around good acting, and gorgeous cinematography are all things that make this film pop. Unfortunately, I think that the script really missed out on some opportunities to really expand on the more interesting aspects of this world, as the characters they mainly focus on, say for maybe the last story, are just not that interesting and don’t connect that much with the very interesting world this film sets up with K and Z. As it stands though, I think this is a solid feature directorial debut from Chino Moya and I look forward to seeing whatever he creates next.