Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams and Lynsey Taylor Mackay
Directed By: Jonathan Glazer
Running Time: 108 minutes
Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Jonathan Glazer must have taken a course on Kubrick and fallen in love with his haunting style. That’s the only way I can describe the bizarre first couple of minutes of “Under the Skin” with its foreboding soundtrack and look straight out of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Just like “2001”, it may take years for people to appreciate the visually eerie and unsettling feast that “Under the Skin” is. While it may seem like a simplistic tale of an alien luring men for nefarious reasons, there is a sense of fondness that slowly creeps in as the movie progresses.
The unnamed alien assumes the skin of an attractive female (Johannson). She drives across the murky land of Scotland in a full sized white van, constantly stopping to ask for directions to men walking on the street, hoping that maybe they’re heading the same way. That’s so she can offer a ride and seduce them into coming back to her place. From the outside, her “home” appears like any other shabby flat, but on the inside it’s a glassy room devoid of color. Pitch black liquid allowing us to only see the lioness and her victim, her articles of clothing slowly being peeled off while the man can’t get his off quick enough. She lures them across the vast emptiness while the nude men slowly sink into the floor and into their demise.
“Under the Skin” never touches upon the existential questions that surround our alien. Why is this thing here? What exactly does it do with the victims? While these are interesting questions, the movie focuses more on the alien living in the human skin. Suddenly our alien from another planet is fascinated by its skin, possibly absorbing the thoughts and feelings of the predecessor that lived and breathed in its flesh. Those stale eyes that stared blankly at everything earlier in the movie now show fear, concern and sympathy. She goes from stalking prey to looking in scared wonder at the human experience.
Our alien rarely talks and only shifts from sexual visual cues to facial twitches of emotions. Despite the vast amounts of graphic nudity, it never feels or looks sexual in nature. The vibes radiating around the alien or the victims appear to be predatorial. Even later in the movie, bare in front of a mirror, it appears to be entranced by the muscle and tissue it stretched over itself. Johannson’s abilities as an actress really shine here as she remains mute while conveying the inner workings of our creature. Oddly enough no one ever becomes suspicious during the 108 minutes that something might be off with this girl.
It’s a fascinating movie to watch because we never feel comfortable enough to relax throughout the first half and in the second half we’re constantly questioning along with this being. There’s a key turning point that I don’t want to give away and it’s definitely one of the more awkward, unsettling moments. What makes the scene so important is that we go from an unnerving first act to a curious second half. Plot points are told through scenes that constantly perturb the audience. Accompany that with the fact there’s little dialogue, it can be a very alienating film for general audiences. Don’t listen to any dissenters; this is definitely the most visually striking sci-fi movie of the year.