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New Review: Under the Skin (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson
With every movie I write about, I try to take notes. I don't get to for every movie I see, but when I do, it makes the process of writing about it fast and easy. I started taking notes while watching Under the Skin, but about forty minutes into the movie, I stopped. It just isn't easy taking notes on a movie like this. Under the Skin doesn't have much of a story, and character development is virtually non-existent, but I'm thinking that may have been the point. The movie is mostly about atmosphere and mood, and about eliciting an emotional response from the audience, which is does quite often.
The movie opens up with the formation of a human eyeball. We're then introduced to Scarlett Johansson, an unnamed alien being who's standing in the middle of a bright white room, and then proceeds to undress a dead woman and put on her clothes. She then hops into a van, and drives through the streets of a grim looking city in Scotland, looking for men who are single and have no family who'll miss them. She drives them to her place, where she seduces them in a pitch black lair, and lures them to their deaths as the floor turns into a thick black liquid and swallows them up.
These scenes are eerie and unsettling, but it's the scenes between Johansson and the men which are the most fascinating. It is said that director Jonathan Glazer used hidden cameras to film the scenes, and the men were actually locals who had no idea they were being filmed. There's no acting and no scripted dialogue, which gives at least those parts of the movie an incredible sense of authenticity. There comes a moment where Johansson picks up a man who suffers from a facial neurofibromatosis disfigurement, and instead of relying on make-up effects and prosthetics, Glazer contacted the charity Changing Faces (which supports people with that condition) to cast Adam Pearson, a man who suffers from the condition and who's very good here, in the role.
The man with the disfigurement inspires a sense of pity within her, and she decides to let him live. There's a man on a motorcycle who seems to be cleaning up after Johansson. He finishes the young man off, and Johansson goes on the run. She eventually meets a friendly man on a bus and stays with him for a few days. Afterwards, she heads off into the woods, where she runs into a man who attempts to rape her. What happens after that, I will leave for you to discover for yourself.
In terms of narrative, Under the Skin is a mess. We never learn why Johansson's character is luring men to their deaths, or what her relationship is with the man on the motorcycle. There is very little dialogue in the movie, and there are many shots that seem inspired by something someone would experience while tripping out on acid. The movie certainly isn't for all tastes, and will leave a number of viewers confused and frustrated.
For all others, this is a hypnotic and oddly engaging movie. As an exercise in atmosphere, the movie is sublime. The cinematography by Daniel Landin is exquisitely done, and the creepy and discordant musical score by Mica Levi certainly succeeds in getting under one's skin. There are moments in the movie that are hauntingly effective, such as the scene at a beach where a little infant boy is left alone after his parents drown in the ocean (the man on the motorcycle cleans up the scene at the beach later that evening, and leaves the poor child alone as the tide comes toward him).
Then, there's Scarlett Johansson, who turns in a quiet yet expressive performance as the unnamed alien. She keeps the audiences enthralled, even when we're left wondering why she's doing the things that she does in the first hour. There comes a point when her character eventually grows empathetic toward human beings, and she tries becoming more like them, first by eating a chocolate cake, then by interacting with the friendly man she met on the bus. She even becomes curious about her own skin, which leads to a beautiful scene where she stands fully nude in front of a mirror, and regards her body with curiosity and fascination.
So what does it all add up to in the end? I'm not entirely sure. It could be something profound, or it could be nothing at all. Maybe those who've read Michel Faber's novel (on which this movie is based) will be able to understand it better than those who haven't. Whatever the case may be, Under the Skin got to me in much the same way that 2012's Beyond the Black Rainbow did: It's weird and confusing and often times frustrating, but it does cast a spell, and it stays with you long after the end credits roll.
Rated R for graphic nudity, some strong sexual content, violence, some profanity
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on Under the Skin (2014)
- Locke and Under the Skin: Linking mind with matter - The Globe and Mail
Although Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hardy drift through their respective turns in Under the Skin and Locke down two disparate roads, they both ultimately arrive in the same desolate place
- Dustin Putman's Review: Under the Skin (2014)
Under the Skin (2014) - 4/4 Stars - 'Under the Skin' is an instantaneously quintessential 21st-century masterpiece in science-fiction and horror.
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