Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Under the Skin (2014): Review

Under the Skin is a 2014 science fiction film. Directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) the film stars Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, The Avengers). The film is a loose adaptation of Michael Faber's 2000 novel.

The film revolves entirely around Johansson's nameless, alien seductress. Appearing as if from nowhere, the character drives aimlessly around Scotland in a transit van looking for young, impressionable men to abduct and send back to her home planet. However, after an encounter with a facially disfigured character the alien begins to feel pity and chooses to spare the man, developing a conscience within the character. This alerts her unnamed, motorcyclist overseer as she is pursued for her digression whilst also trying to comprehend the complexity of the human race.

It's fair to say this is Glazer's most experimental and arthouse film yet and plays somewhat like Species (1995) crossed with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However the fascinating thing is how Glazer manages to strike an odd balance between those films, being less concerned with sexiness than Species but also more coherent than Kubrick's rambling odyssey. Like most arthouse cinema the film is visually fascinating, incorporating all the weather and elements one would associate with Scotland as well as some extremely unsettling abduction sequences. Whilst there is very little plot to be getting to grips with, it doesn't seem to matter as the atmosphere and disturbing tone seem to have a hypnotic effect.

There's been a great deal of publicity surrounding the casting of Scarlett Johannson and the amount of nudity that features in the film and before seeing the film, Johannson and Glazer did seem like an odd collaboration. However, Johannsen's performance is tremendous as she perfectly conveys an emotionless and disconnected "stranger in a strange land". There was also the danger of the nudity undermining the film and perhaps being seen as exploitative of such an incredibly famous, and beautiful, actress. However, the nudity is perfectly used and often only features during the more disturbing and disorienting abduction sequences, managing to disarm Johannsen's obvious sex appeal.

The only criticism I would make is that the film does appear repetitive and extremely thin on plot at certain times, however, the startling imagery, existential concepts and Johannsen's fascinating performance did more than enough to keep me gripped. If you lean a little more towards the conceptual, metaphysical sci-fi and can see through the arthouse cliches, Under the Skin will haunt you for days.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Under the Skin? Do you agree with Johannson's casting?


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