Thick with a heady fog of lustful yearning, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed probes humanity’s collective fears and hypocrisies around sex while preserving the fundamental strangeness of the libido, the way it ruptures our naïvely constructed notions of righteousness and decency even as it’s routinely suppressed by them. Beneath the thin patina of civilization lies the boiling cauldron of carnality, which, in Escalante’s lunatic vision, is physically embodied by a monstrous, phallus-tentacled alien life form that gives some people untold sexual gratification and causes unspeakable violence to others.
We first glimpse the alien in the film’s startling opening sequence, which shows a meteorite lurching through space, a woman being pleasured by a tentacle, and the woman, bleeding from a gash on her side, limping through a thick mist to her motorcycle. These images teem with an ominous portent that lingers throughout The Untamed, even as Escalante shifts his focus away from the mysterious extraterrestrial and toward a social-realist melodrama centering on the densely interlocking relationships of his main characters.
Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) is a troubled marriage with Ángel (Jesús Meza), who’s sleeping with her doctor brother, Fabián (Eden Villavicencio). Meanwhile, Verónica, the woman from the film’s opening sequence, develops a crush on Fabián, who’s her physician, and though he doesn’t reciprocate, the two form a quick friendship that culminates in Verónica introducing Fabián to the mysterious sexual powers of the alien creature, which occupies a secluded farmhouse deep in the forest watched over by an elderly couple.
There’s an allegorical, even fabulistic, quality to the narrative, but Escalante resists oversimplifying his creature into a unipolar metaphor. Rather, the film touches on numerous social issues—homophobia, repressed desires, misogyny, addiction, violence—without reducing the creature to a stand-in for any one of them. Instead, like the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker—a film that Escalante visually evokes via a totemic black dog—the meaning of the alien shifts depending on who comes into contact with it. Escalante pulls off the difficult trick of integrating this bizarre beast into a fully realized narrative of sexual dissatisfaction. Each brief glimpse of the creature’s fleshy, slithering mass imbues the character drama with an aching sexual desire and, as the violent potential of the entity becomes clear, a mounting sense of dread.
Even as the bodies start to pile up, though, Escalante resists the bloody catharsis of standard horror-movie thrills, preferring instead to unsettle rather than shock. If this leaves the film feeling slightly anticlimactic—something of an irony for a film about sex—Escalante’s refusal to reduce this being into a mere monster preserves the unearthly carnal mystery that makes The Untamed such an intoxicating and disturbing experience.