The Untamed (2017)

I am aware that two examples do not equal a trend, but if there’s a new wave of sexually explicit “extreme” horror coming out of Mexico, I am eating that shit up. After months of talking up the surrealist, incestuous button-pusher We Are the Flesh as one of the best horror gems of the year, another prurient horror rarity from Mexico has caught my attention & admiration. The slowburn sci-fi horror The Untamed is not quite as structurally sound or as thematically satisfying as We Are the Flesh, but employs a similar palette of sexual shock value tactics to jar its audience to an extreme, unfamiliar headspace. It adopts the gradual reveals & sound design terrors common to “elevated horrors” of the 2010s, but finds a mode of scare delivery all unto its own, if not only in the depiction of its movie-defining monster: a space alien that sensually fucks human beings with its tentacles. The Untamed alternates between frustration & hypnotism as its story unfolds, but one truth remains constant throughout: you’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Even We Are the Flesh cannot fully prepare you.

The Untamed opens with a slow-moving asteroid floating in the void of outer space. The movie never returns there again. Instead, it immediately cuts to two contrasting sexual acts, where the remainder of the movie will dwell. In one, a woman stares blankly while mildly tolerating a passionless bout of morning sex initiated by her husband. Later she struggles to find time to masturbate in the shower while her children noisily prepare for the day elsewhere in the house. In the other opening sex act, an isolated space alien tentacle sensually withdraws from between a human woman’s legs, leaving its interspecies partner visibly satisfied & emotionally drained. It requires patience to see the connections between these two women become clearly established, but the movie is much more interested in the difference between these two sexual events. Sexually unsatisfying, frustrated, and abusive romances leave a number of characters, men & women, stumbling without direction in their lives. These lonely souls are drawn, compelled, to a nearby barn where the tentacle space monster from the opening minutes is waiting to seduce them on a dirty mattress, penetrating every orifice. Where this creature came from, what it wants form humanity, and what happens to it after the credits roll remains a mystery. All we know is that it’s a very satisfying lover.

The exact monster movie metaphor carved out by The Untamed’s space alien tentacle sex is unclear, but mesmerizing. It’s framed as an extension of pure, primitive Nature, especially in an orgiastic Noah’s Ark sequence (that might just contain the single most stunning shot of the year). It’s also aligned with abuse & addiction to toxic romance. Space alien sex leads to more satisfying, transcendent pleasures than the alternative, but can be just as life-threatening as the domestic violence & homophobic hate crimes that its victims already broke away from. The Untamed may contain more graphic sex (straight, gay, masturbatory, extraterrestrial, and otherwise) than what you’d typically see on the screen, even in “extreme horror” fare, but there are plenty of other Lovecraftian titles its unknowable pleasurable-transcendence-through-incredible-pain themes can be compared to: From Beyond, Possession, Martyrs, Splice, etc. I only specifically mentioned We Are the Flesh as a reference point because of the excitement of seeing two films from the same country touch such similarly out-there, taboo grounds in the same year of release. Even if it’s years before another sexually explicit “extreme horror” from Mexico solidifies this coincidence as a solid trend, The Untamed has left plenty visual & thematic threads for us to untangle in the meantime. Like most slowburn, “elevated” horrors of recent years, it’s a movie that defies simple explanation & classification, which is just as satisfying of an effect as any of its moments of sexual taboo shock value. The Untamed is a gorgeous puzzle of a work just as much as it is a shock-a-minute horror.

-Brandon Ledet

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