Movie Review – Undergods

Undergods (2020)
Written and Directed by Chino Moya

Western society is in its twilight. It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not; it is. All it takes is stepping back a bit, viewing this particular political hegemony from an intellectual distance, and seeing the decline in real time. I am 40. When I am 50, society will be worse than it is now. And so on and so on until I die. There is potential goodness in people, but there are also potent, influential institutions devoted to sowing division, agitation, and distraction. So what will that future world, that sprawling landscape of inhuman Hell, possibly look like? Filmmaker Chino Moya posits this blasted wasteland, populated with brutalist architecture. The irony here is that, like all good science fiction, Moya isn’t talking about the potential future but reflecting on what he sees in our present through a lens of fantasy.

Undergods is an anthology film with interconnected stories that feel Lynchian in their dreamlike qualities. Our expectations of narrative and geography are shattered by the surreality of the piece. The film opens on a post-apocalyptic ruin. Z & K are two scavengers, finding corpses and chucking them into the back of their large truck. K shares that he’s been having a recurring dream of a ghost-like man haunting an apartment far away. We learn that this ghost man is Ron, the protagonist of the story that follows. In that story, Ron and his wife, Ruth, are the first people to move into a brand-new apartment building. But that first night, there’s a knock at the door, and they meet a stranger who claims to have just moved in, but his apartment isn’t fully set up. This begins a dark, twisted descent into madness for Ron. Stories keep winding back on themselves and branching in new directions until the line between dreams and reality is obliterated. 

The aesthetics of Undergods recalls 1970s futurism with a 1980s synth soundtrack, all of it meant to point to how we perceive our future through nostalgia. Spanish-born Moya is interested in taking apart what has led to the decline in Europe, mainly the move from state-sponsored economies to a type of “savage capitalism” that has led to suffering and will just get worse as it goes along. Michael Parenti’s book “Blackshirts and Reds” shares stories from Eastern Europeans who lived in awe of the luxury of the American economy. However, when communism fell in the region, and American corporations swooped in, changing the entire structure of labor in Eastern Europe, the people were left shell-shocked. When layoffs began at their places of work, they weren’t worried. They had grown up in a system where the state made sure you had a job, so you had income. Housing and food were actually in greater abundance that Western media and education have taught you. What wasn’t present was lavish consumption. But then, these workers were left with nothing in the wake of capitalism’s introduction and were stunned. 

Moya draws inspiration from concentration camps to present a future landscape where humans have been broken down to their most brutal aspects. Dead bodies are churned and ground into food for those with power. The living dead, the ordinary person whose soul is broken, is enslaved, laboring for those same cannibals. It’s impossible to imagine the hopeful futures we were presented with in the past as we face societal annihilation and the collapse of the planet’s climate. In fifty years, most exotic animals we learn about as children will likely be extinct or on the brink of it. The world that’s been mythologized into existence in our minds will be utterly gone. 

Undergods examines humanity’s relationship to this brutal world of now and to come. Labor is something that provides no fulfillment but the perpetuation of the elite at the top of the pile. This is how we live now, and if we continue down this path, passively accepting this doom, there is no future for our children, grandchildren, or descendants. We are living in a necropolitical state of being. The dysfunction of this society has seeped into not just our work lives but our personal ones, our relationships with our lovers, partner, friends, and children. It’s not hopeless, but you have to gaze into the horror of existence to fully understand what is wrong. A doctor should not guess at the illness; they should examine the symptoms and make a logical, informed reason for the root cause. In the instance of the world, Undergods attempts to present the root problem as capitalism. An ideology where commodification over humanity is dominant. Until people begin to wake up to this fact, the misery will perpetuate itself, time a flat circle, where life becomes worse in degrees that are not felt in the moment but hit with overwhelming horror years from now. 

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