Under the Skin (2013)

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Director: Jonathan Glazer. Film4/BFI/Silver Reel/Creative Scotland et al.

SCIENCE FICTION

Cast & Credits

Producers: Nick Wechsler, James Wilson.
Writer: Jonathan Glazer.
Camera: Daniel Landin.
Music: Mica Levi. Sets: Chris Oddy.

Scarlet Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Krystof Hadek, Scott Dymond, Adam Pearson, Michael Moreland, Jeremy McWilliams.

SYNOPSIS

A beautiful and seductive alien (Johansson) assumes the form of a young girl, supplied by another alien who is disguised as a motorcyclist and who supports her as she picks up men in Glasgow, with the aim of harvesting their bodies for food. After meeting a young man who is severely deformed, she begins to learn what it is to be human, to feel and to experience our world.

REVIEW

Under the Skin posterDefinitely a strong front-runner for any international film awards that have a ‘Best Bonkers Film’ category or ‘Best Head Fuck Experience’. Glazer’s beguiling and mystifying non-sci science fiction will almost certainly scoop up this reviewer’s ‘Best Marmite Film of 2014’ award. You will either admire or be baffled, annoyed and/or downright infuriated by this piece, possibly all at once.

Glazer’s visual style is certainly arresting, an odd-bod collection of prosaic images, crisp Scottish landscapes, stygian dark council estates, naked white bodies and Johansson’s unaccountably classy beauty. Her prey are literally led by their penises to their death, loping toward her with erections as she strips, happily sinking into an oily darkness that is a holding cell. Johansson is more of a spider than an alien, keeping her captives in a liquid jail until their innards are magically sucked out. In one of the movie’s more dazzlingly bizarre moments, the leftover skin of a man she has devoured dances in her watery web.

Although Glazer bases his film in and around Glasgow, as bleak and desperate a city as any in the UK, he travels outside to stunning highland locales, most impressively during the seaside moments when Scarlett kills a man who has tried to save a drowning family, casually leaving their screaming baby on the shale. Later, sea spray swirls into the air as the waves crash onto the beach.

Early on in the film when she assumes the identity of the dead woman (Mackay), she picks up an ant and studies it, a close-up of its chomping jaws linking to the predator who is holding it.

Glazer stages a mind-boggling opening titles sequence of light and shapes that, if it wasn’t so deliberately vague, almost flaky, could have rivalled the ‘stargate’ in 2001: A Space Odyssey¬†(1968) for visual audacity. Are we seeing Johansson’s jaw-dropping fall to earth, a planet being created, a space-ship slowly hiving into view?

When it finally transpires that what we have is the alien being shaped into a human, almost as if in an industrial mould, as a viewer you feel slightly cheated. This is not the only moment when the film can completely aggravate. A scene in a mountainside cafe sees Johansson trying food for the first time. She lifts a slice of cake to her mouth slowly – too slowly. It’s pretentious, portentous. Still, a smart choice of food stuff to choose to highlight Johansson’s other-worldiness – any human would have snaffled this down the hatch, no messing.

Johansson steers a good course through what must have sounded un-playable on paper. It helps that she looks other-worldly incredible, helped by a cut-glass English accent that further differentiates her from the Scots she stalks and she belies the cheap clothes and make-up. It’s an almost mystifying turn and full kudos to the girl for signing up to Glazer’s idea that he actually film her (with hidden cameras) picking up the guys for real in a van.¬†Glazer said the men were “talked through what extremes they would have to go to if they agreed to take part in the film once they understood what we were doing” (from a BBC interview here). Bravely, she pins down the difficult task of showing an extra-terrestrial creature going on an extraordinary journey, nibbling her way through man-kind and discovering humanity with the most unlikely of men, losing her virginity and having a breakdown in the highlands as she struggles with what it is to be a human.

A special mention too to Levi, for the awesome spine-tingling, fingernails-down-a-chalkboard score.

Watch the trailer on Youtube.

 

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