If a society is constructed by the stories it tells, the world in Undergods is an unsettling and sparse one, with humour dryer than the detritus strewn across this barren and brutalist land. With a colour palette that makes Roy Andersson’s films look like La La Land, mood takes front and centre here, always chilly, never inviting.

A series of tales are told amongst this desolate city, by a father to a daughter, by one dump-truck driver to another, cleaning the streets of corpses. More than one involves someone turning up uninvited, disrupting a comforting blandness with their sinister unpredictability. Another sees a man’s daughter go missing after he fails to return schematics to a crazy-haired stranger as promised. Writer/director Chino Moya mines comedy from the disintegration of relationships – comedy which also recalls Andersson – like one husband’s pathetic boozy singalong at a colleague’s party after his wife’s ex shows up catatonic.

Whether each story actually happened doesn’t matter, since it’s in their telling that Undergods’ world is built. Each acts like an urban legend, just grounded enough in the film’s reality that it could be true. That the film begins from a bleak baseline means there’s little emotional variation across its 90 minutes, making it a masterclass in tone and mood – not to mention incredible production design – if not in weaving the most gripping plot.

An international cast adds to the film’s this-could-be-anywhere feel, with Son of Saul’s Géza Röhrig and Sex Education’s Tanya Reynolds standing out in smaller parts, while Kate Dickie – no stranger to a grim movie or two – perfectly balances familiar everyday life with the oddity of brainwashing mindfulness.

Undergods gets so much right for a debut feature, particularly what it achieves through its textures – the tactile cityscape, Wojciech Golczewski’s synth score – and with a tighter, more affecting narrative, Moya will be one to watch.

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Johann Myers, Géza Röhrig, Kate Dickie

DIRECTOR: Chino Moya

WRITER: Chino Moya

SYNOPSIS: A collection of darkly humorous tales told within a brutalist and barren European cityscape.