Under the Skin (2013) Directed by Jonathan Glazer. With Scarlett Johansson.
Don’t you just love those rare experiences, during which you become so engrossed in something, that you reach a state of virtual hypnosis!? Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin was one such example of a film that held my undivided attention from the first second to the last. Based on a novel of the same name by Michael Faber, it begins as a story about an alien seductress (Scarlett Johansson) in not-so-bonny-Scotland, using her sultry talents to prey upon randy men.
That description could easily lead you believe it’s a raunchy sex comedy, but believe me, it’s anything but. Johannson is mesmerising in the central role, somehow encapsulating an other-worldliness as she interacts with everyday life. To see the familiarity of our world from her perspective is oddly surreal. Her non-emotional responses to things that trigger intense emotion with us, remind us of the cold brutality of the universe, while similarly highlighting what it is that makes humankind so unique.
There isn’t a moment of Under the Skin that isn’t fascinating. It represents cinema at its absolute finest, defaulting to sound effects and visual symbols as its prime method of storytelling. What’s more, Mica Levi’s sinister, subtly haunting score creates depth-upon-depth in a film that is striking in everything it represents. The inspired casting of Scarlett Johannson, stalking the cold, grey Scottish locations is, in itself, an alien sight to behold – thickening the sense of an outsider in our midst.
There aren’t many films I’ll almost forget myself during, but it’s the closest I’ve felt to the childlike wonder of discovering something new and exciting, for many a year. Deep, darkly erotic and disturbing, Under the Skin is a rare and intelligent film that feels wholly original. Nightmarishly unforgettable. 5/5
Great review! I’m happy you liked this one so much. I love when a film like this comes along. We need more like this. 🙂
Thank you. Yes, it shines a light on how shallow and unsatisfying much of mainstream cinema is. Great to have your input.
Agree completely, Gareth. Under the Skin is pure cinema, little dialog, relying on image and sound.
Thank you for your input. It’s a shame that it has to be called an acquired taste. I see equal amounts of love and hate for it, across the web. Not much in between.
I loved this film! And I really love the soundtrack, it’s great t listen to while working (assuming creepy, haunting music helps you work). It’s a great film to take literally or find a metaphorical narrative beneath it. : D
Great to have a comment from you on this one. I LOVE talking about this film. I’ve bored my friends to tears banging on and on about it. I can’t help it though, I think it’s such a powerful film. I believe it will eventually find a place as an undisputed classic. At the moment, it’s still finding its place with audiences. I’m with you on the soundtrack too. It’s insane, but in a good way.
So how did you interpret it? Literal aliens or something else? or was it primarily a cathartic experience? or a combination? (No fair peeking at my rambling post on this one cause I got kinda carried away like Frankenstein & The Others… *looks at shoes sheepishly*)
It got inside my head and took my imagination on a ride. I have a very long response to your question and I really don’t want to bore you, especially seeing as we’ve had such good back-and-forth exchanges over the past few days.
Hmm. I saw Scarlett as an embodiment of the universe, almost like a black hole that fed on our energy. With no human emotion (before infection) it can go around without remorse (the heartbreaking baby on the beach scene) picking its prey. It treats the baby like another pebble on the beach. It has no regard or use. It feels no pity, even. I loved the idea of the universe gaining awareness. Like the deep, cold blackness of space had all of a sudden switched on, changing everything. Of course, that’s only one aspect to draw. This is a multi-layered film with so many possibilities to explore afterwards. The ambiguity keeps it beautiful and fresh and ripe for further discovery. My film of the year for its release.
“There aren’t many films I’ll almost forget myself during, but it’s the closest I’ve felt to the childlike wonder of discovering something new and exciting, for many a year.” I had a very similar reaction. The only times I’ve felt like this about a movie in my adult life were Children of Men and Space Station 76, though in the latter it was more about an emotional reaction where in Children of Men it was just wrapped up in the story. Either way, profoundly effected by both.
Under the Skin disturbed me to my core. That image of the kid alone on the beach still haunts me.