A ruined world of derelict high-rises, the stains of the rising smoke blackening the holes where the windows once were, dust clogs the air as a rusted van prowls the muddy streets collecting bodies or picking up those who might serve as slave labour, taken for processing by Z56 and K38, indifferent to the suffering they are a part of as they sip from their flask of gasoline, concerned only with whatever trades they can make.
Another place, another time, they tell stories, of a building that was newly built and yet unfinished, home to only one family, husband and wife Ron and Ruth, and the stranger who knocked at their door one night and the betrayals and revenge that followed, and the witnesses to that, Octavius and his precocious daughter Horatia, who have their own stories to tell of merchant Hans and his own daughter Maria and the mistakes he made which cost him everything.
The architecture against which writer/director Chino Moya’s Undergods is set shifts in each distinct segment, from the sterility of a largely unoccupied modern building of grey concrete to an unnamed city of art deco apartments and furniture where decrepit prostitutes ply their trade on the streets below to an estate of uniform angular blocks where lives stagnate behind picture windows, all underpinned by the elsewhere of decay similar to the stark Eastern European monoliths of Last and First Men, but through each visual shift the underlying themes remain constant.
Tales of misery, cruelty and punishment woven into each other and the frame in which they are set, each features a family and an intruder, unexpected, unwelcome and disruptive, interloper Harry (Ned Dennehy) whose lies gain him a foothold with Ron and Ruth (Michael Gould and Hayley Carmichael), the inflexible foreign engineer (Jan Bijvoet) who presents a proposal to Hans (Eric Godon), a stale marriage sideswiped by the reappearance of her missing first husband, long thought dead.
Simple scenarios of duplicity and dread in suburban settings in equal part engrossing and off-putting, Undergods is populated by outcasts and eccentrics who reek of disappointment and desperation, the style recalling the modernist nightmares of Ben Wheatley spliced with the technophobic traumas of Terry Gilliam, but the presentation is more interesting than the stories themselves which swiftly establish their premises but then stumble as they try to decide on the direction in which to progress.
The longest tale unfortunately the least interesting, with Adrian Rawlins as the overstretched social climber Dominic seeking promotion in Burn Gorman’s soap-powder empire and Kate Dickie as his starry-eyed and self-deluded wife Rachel, the links to the tangent world of human scrap merchants Z56 and K38 are apparent but their meaning unclear, Undergods a tangled knot of tragic circumstance where the complexity goes no farther than how it is tied together.