UNDER THE SKIN Review
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Jonathan Glazer Rohan Gotobed
Under the Skin is a film that has (and forever will) caused polarising opinions. Upon its release, the Telegraph gave it five stars and proclaimed it the film of the year; while The Independent gave it only one star and said it was “laughably bad.” I think that your opinion of this film hinges on how you view film. Under the Skin is the first film that I’ve seen for a while that truly appreciates cinema as an art form. But, before I move on to attempting to analysing this piece of cinema, I’ll try to reveal some of the plot.
The thing about Under the Skin is that there is no real plot within the actual film. My subjective understanding of the film’s storyline mostly comes from the back of the blu ray case, which reads:
“An alien entity inhabits the earthly form of a seductive young woman who combs the Scottish highways in search of the human prey it is here to plunder. It lures its isolated and forsaken male victims into an otherworldly dimension where they are stripped and consumed. But life in all its complexity starts to change the alien. It begins to see itself as ‘she’, as human, with tragic and terrifying consequences. UNDER THE SKIN is about seeing ourselves through alien eyes.”
In this case; the alien is portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, which is an impressive and intriguing piece of casting. The film is set in Scotland, with scenes in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands among others. By placing a Hollywood star as his lead, Jonathan Glazer has already introduced the idea of being out of place. The alien is an outsider, and there is an out worldly sense of being within Scarlett Johansson which convinces us that she is indeed an alien, and not just a very famous actress driving a van around Scotland.
Daniel Landin’s cinematography turns Scotland into an alien world. With Glazer’s long steady-cam shots, the Scottish wilderness become enveloping; a foreign kind of beauty enthroned throughout while the metropolises themselves become hives of people; like an ants nest. The scenes where the alien entraps her prey are terrifying, compelling and oddly erotic. In this film, every male character desires sex. The alien is a honeytrap, seducing the lonely Scottish admirers into stripping and following her as they walk into a black void.
This film is incredibly artistic, and eerily quiet. There isn’t a clear line of dialogue until around fifteen minutes into the movie, and the film opens with a lengthy montage of distant shapes and lights revolving until we see an alien eye staring at us. Mica Levi’s chilling score was BAFTA nominated, and with tracks like ‘Death’; it is easy to hear why. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xp0EW4ReZcA)
This is a film that doesn’t spell out its story line for an audience. Imagine a Picasso artwork being turned into a 109 minute long film. Glazer presents his subject without comment, and we are left to make our own deductions. We are shown the vices of the human population: a woman smokes her cigarette while speaking to a mother with her baby, homeless people are crouched in the cold, people drink readily. Two scenes notably caused my spine to tingle. The first comes quite early on in the film, and is when the alien sees a couple drown while swimming in the sea. Their toddler is sat on the pebbles, and his cries reverberate long after his image has gone. The second comes later, when the alien picks up a man who is facially disfigured. For this role, Jonathan Glazer cast a man with Neurofibromatosis, Adam Pearson, and I almost gasped when he reveals that he is only in his late 20s. Under the Skin is about acceptance and loneliness. As the alien begins to become more human, she becomes more vulnerable, while Jonathan Glazer is capable of instilling even more tension as a motorcyclist (played by Jeremy McWilliams) follows the alien, cleaning up after her. As much as I would love to continue an analysis of the film; I am wary of spoilers, so will keep my trap shut from here.
Verdict: A thing of immense beauty, Jonathan Glazer has made a film that appreciates itself as a form of art. Stylistic and symbolic, this will not appeal to anyone. However, I do think that this is iconic, elegant and should have received more appreciation than it did.