Film is all about metaphor. We know that they’re actors, we know that there’s a cameraperson pointing a lens at the actors, a sound person holding a mic above their heads, a director telling them when to start and stop the action, and an editor chopping up the scenes to establish a certain tone, rhythm or emotional response. We happily ignore the technical in our desire for a good story. The dead can resurrect, people can fly to distant planets, shrink to the size of a sugar cube or fly effortlessly to their secret lair in the clouds. All good.
Occasionally, though, a film appears that’s basically all metaphor, filled with startling and peculiar imagery meant to shock us into thinking about the meaning of it all rather than just follow along with the story on screen. Strange cinematic metaphor is what the quirky new indie post-apocalyptic fantasy film Undergods feeds on. And weird it is with a narrative story arc that kind of makes sense but only in the most strange and inexplicable ways. There’s a hint of David Mitchell’s peculiar Cloud Atlas in the story too, where characters and vignettes are connected, just not in the way you would expect.
The film opens up with K (Johann Myers) and Z (Géza Röhrig), two quirky, downtrodden “collectors” driving a beat-up truck through a dark, grey, apocalyptic cityscape. They’re searching for “meat”, freshly dead people who they can sell to make a few coins and survive another day. If the people they find aren’t quite dead yet, they are not averse to hastening the process in an unsurprisingly violent manner.
Cut to the seemingly harmless old duffer Harry (Ned Dennehy) knocking on the flat door of tired couple Ron (Michael Gould) and Ruth (Hayley Carmichael). Harry explains to them that he lives downstairs and has inadvertently locked himself out. He asks to come in to call building management so he can return to his own place. Instead, he spends the weekend, adding an increasingly chaotic factor into their otherwise boring lives. The message here is clear: Relationships are weak and can’t survive significant changes to the environment. This message is reinforced at least twice in the film with other couples, most notably an hour later with the surprise arrival of Hans (Eric Godon) into the lives of Rachel (Kate Dickie) and Dominic (Adrian Rawlins): Hans is Rachel’s first husband, he’d vanished for 15 years and has suddenly returned a mostly-catatonic hulk of a man. Can Rachel & Dominic’s relationship survive his arrival? Of course not.
The underlying theme could be how these stories all connect and what they all have to do with the original post-apocalyptic world where Z and K are hunting for fresh meat. There is a narrative thread that, just barely, runs through and connects everything, but it’ll definitely keep you muttering “what the f-?” as the film proceeds. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, because the stories, while being rather endlessly dark, cynical, and depressing, are also interesting in a THX-1138 sort of way. This is a bleak, bleak future.
I can’t recommend Undergods for all audiences, and it’s too dark and violent for teens and younger, but if you’re the kind of person who contemplates existential questions and wonders about how our current cultural values will translate into a post-apocalyptic landscape, it will definitely be a provocative film for you to watch. Just don’t really expect to enjoy it, per se.