The Untamed: Wildly Provocative and Bleak Sci-Fi Horror

A young woman comes to grips with her failing marriage and homosexual husband, and oh yeah there’s something about a tentacle sex alien too, in The Untamed (2016), a Mexican sci-fi horror film written and directed by Amat Escalante. Originally titled La region salvaje, it was released in the U.S. in 2017. The film gratuitously uses a provocative subtext to explore serious drama and sexual themes in small town Mexico.

Amat Escalante is a Spanish director known for his gritty portrayal of the Mexican experience. The Untamed paints an unvarnished portrait, and even the natural scenes are bleak and depressing. Its original title translates to “the wild region,” which I’m assuming refers both to untamed nature and female sexuality. There are several close up shots that reinforce that theme scattered throughout the film.

Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and Ángel (Jesus Meza) are raising two children in an unhappy marriage. Alejandra’s brother, Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), is a nurse at a local hospital. Ángel and Fabian are having an affair. Things get weird when Fabian meets Veronica (Simone Bucio), who visits the hospital after being bitten by a lusty tentacle alien her parents (?) keep in their barn.

Veronica lures Fabian to the barn, where the creature brutalizes him into a coma. He is later found naked in a ditch and brought to the hospital, where Alejandra meets Veronica. Police arrest Ángel for Fabian’s injuries because a bystander saw the two men arguing in a parking lot before Fabian disappeared.

Somehow Veronica convinces Alejandra to also meet the alien, but she has a more pleasurable experience. Her sexual awakening leads her to realize the truth about her brother and husband’s relationship, and she flees with her children. After Ángel accidentally shoots himself in the leg, Alejandra returns to the barn, where she finds the alien has killed Veronica.

Like most European films (The Untamed was made by a Spanish filmmaker), The Untamed heavily relies on tedious character development and subtext American audiences generally find boring. I have a feeling most viewers will skip to the alien scenes just out of curiosity. The CGI here is excellent for an indie film; much better than some big budget studio releases I’ve seen.

I’m reminded of a writing professor who used to admonish us for including supernatural or fantastic elements in our stories. Why not use a person rather than a monster? He’d ask. Well, a monster is more interesting, I thought. In this case we have to ask: what does a tentacle sex alien bring to the story? You can’t just say, well, the movie is really about the protagonist’s sexual journey, because you don’t need a weird creature to tell that story. Plenty of movies feature lusty aliens, but the aliens are usually central to the plot.

In The Untamed, remove the alien and little changes. Alejandra’s brother might as well have been hit by a car. You could say it motivates Alejandra to finally leave her husband, but finding out Ángel was having an affair with her brother probably would have been sufficient. Ruth Ramos and Simone Bucio are both beautiful actresses and don’t need intimate moments with a CGI monster to arouse the audience’s attention.

Overall, The Untamed is a competent and provocative film, but its sci-fi element seems gimmicky. Its conclusion is murky and bleak. Is passion and sexual gratification ultimately dangerous and destructive, as the creature implies? Was everyone better off in their dysfunctional yet stable relationships prior to encountering the creature? Somehow I don’t think that’s the message Amat Escalante intended, but it’s hard to arrive at any other conclusion.

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