Under The Skin


Let’s just put this out there straight away, Under The Skin is weird.  There is no two ways about it, it’s just fact.  It’s part sci-fi, part horror and part psychological fuck up.  Directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson it’s been a bit of a personal project for the two of them to get this movie, based off of Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, onto the big screen in recent years.  Filmed in Glasgow it’s hardly the big box office smashes we have come to expect from Johansson and this is one of the most interesting films she’s done.

What plot there is in this movie is worth avoiding in a review, because it’s something you should puzzle over and figure out yourself.  The basic premise however is that an unnamed alien life form (Johansson) has come to earth and taken a human form, before hitting the streets of Glasgow to pick up a variety of men via various methods of seduction.  She then takes them back to her place, where she appears to harvest their organs.  Simple?  Wel,l no not really.

You see this film isn’t entirely populated by actors.  A number of the people that Johansson approaches on the street were exactly that, people on the street being filmed by hidden cameras and presumably fooled due to a complete lack of expecting to bump into Scarlet Johansson on Sauchiehall Street driving a white van.  This has an interesting effect.  You watch the film aware of this and begin to question exactly who is an actor and who is just a passing pedestrian.   It also means that you get some genuinely real responses out of people, presumably confused about this gorgeous woman driving up to them.

That aside Johansson herself puts in probably the most interesting performance of her career.  The little moments when she experiences something uniquely human and reacts to it with shock or confusion are done brilliantly, while everything about her is just slightly alien, be it the way she approaches conversation or how she walks through a busy nightclub.  This all comes together to suggests that anyone that believes she is just a pretty face better rethink their opinion.  Elsewhere the entire film is beautifully if often confusingly shot.  There are long slightly sci-fi esque scenes of lights and shapes that are never truly explained and are as captivating as they are alien.  While the long lingering shots that go on just slightly too long leave the watcher feeling as uncomfortable and out of place as Johansson appears.

The best description I’ve heard of Under the Skin came from Mark Kermode, who said it was a film that had flaws but that the flaws may well aid it rather than hinder, while also paying respect to it being a movie made by a film-maker who is obviously 100% behind his art.  That really does sum it up.  This is far from a perfect movie, but it’s an exciting movie.  Jonathan Glazer has fought to get the movie he wants to make made and this is truly that and there is more than enough going on here to suggest what he could do in the future would be truly brilliant.  In the here and now Under the Skin is a creepy and often downright disturbing film that is well worth finding the time to go and see.

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