By Don Simpson | April 18, 2014
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writers: Jonathan Glazer (Screenplay), Walter Campbell (Screenplay), Michel Faber (Novel)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek, Roy Armstrong, Alison Chand, Ben Mills, Oscar Mills, Lee Fanning, Paul Brannigan, Marius Bincu, Scott Dymond, Stephen Horn, Adam Pearson, May Mewes, Michael Moreland, Gerry Goodfellow, Dave Acton, Jessica Mance, Jerome Boyle, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Robert J. Goodwin, Steve Keys
After a perplexing but startlingly beautiful opening sequence, the meandering and nearly-silent narrative of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin begins as an alien being takes the form of a raven-haired woman (Scarlett Johansson). Like a sex offender in heat, she almost immediately begins to cruise the outskirts of Glasgow in a nondescript white van. Her feminine wiles are enough to lure most single men into her vehicle, just as her seductive walk effortlessly hypnotizes the unsuspecting victims into a trance as they submerge themselves into a primordial black ooze.
Providing no explanations for the alien’s purpose on Earth or where she came from, Glazer blazingly defies the science fiction genre, blurring the meaning(s) of Under the Skin with sublime obliqueness. It will surely take even the most educated cinema-goer multiple viewings of this film to even begin to make heads or tails of this film. Sure, Glazer flips the table on sexual predators, placing Scarlett Johansson in the typically masculine position of power. All the while, Under the Skin punishes the men for objectifying the female form; their relentless sexual desire makes them oblivious to all else. (It is not without irony that many viewers will be persuaded to watch Under the Skin just because Johansson does indeed appear naked, yet most of those same viewers will be punished by the excruciatingly slow pacing and head-scratching, cerebral qualities of the film.) No matter what, searching too deeply for meaning(s) within this cinematic rabbit hole might just be a lost cause. Glazer seems unabashedly unapologetic for the mysterious nature of this film, and rightly so. It is rare that a film can open itself up to so many questions, yet get away with providing no answers; for once, it is nice not to be spoon fed by expository dialogue and/or heavy-handed clues.
Adapted from Michael Faber’s novel, Under the Skin is, at its core, a uniquely experiential film. The cinematography (Daniel Landin) and soundscape are minutely designed to transfix and disorient the audience, immersing us into this strange world and allowing Johansson to work her magic on us. Establishing a pervasive mood and tone akin to Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Under the Skin creates a nightmarish air that is sure to crawl its way under the audience’s skin.