Scarlett Is Surreal And Scary.
Under The Skin is a rare experience and is likely to be quite polarizing for audiences. Very little in this film is comfortable or pedestrian.
Liberally adapted from the 2000 novel by Michel Faber, Under The Skin follows an other-worldly being (Scarlett Johansson) who is luring men across Scotland into a trap within her unassuming home. In the novel this was to create nourishment for her people, but it is left unsaid and open in the film. After taking pity on one of her potential victims, the character begins a journey of self-discovery.
Director Jonathan Glazer (Birth, Sexy Beast) has crafted a fascinating film that eschews traditional storytelling for a more observational look at its lead character. But the film isn’t strictly like a documentary per se, it is flared with abstract and often off-putting visuals throughout. It is shot beautifully (which is somewhat surprising given how much of the film was captured guerrilla-style with hidden cameras) and masterfully edited together. Visually, it feels like its in slow-motion to the point of being still. The film contains exceptionally little dialogue and while it has moments of an eerie score, much of the film’s tension comes out its near silence.
Under The Skin almost exists in two halves. The first is quite alien, following Scarlett Johansson’s character ensnaring various men throughout Scotland. This is where we see the more surreal and jarring visuals and sound. The second half follows the main character struggling with its identity, both sexually and within the human condition. As such, the film becomes more human and organic.
Scarlett Johansson gives a haunting performance throughout. The lack of dialogue from the character makes way for rich subtleties. It’s understated and works perfectly for this film. In the first half of the film, she is quite chilling. If you removed the alien aspects of the film, which one could actually do quite easily, you would still have a very frightening portrait of a psychopath. In the second half the colder edges of the character ease off and becomes more sympathetic.
Under The Skin gives the audience the pieces and leaves it to the viewer to put those pieces together. This is something will engage some, but put off others. If nothing else, it is visually powerful and contains arguably Johansson’s strongest performance to date.[box] The Good: A nuanced performance from Scarlett Johansson, stellar photography and editing, tense atmosphere.
The Bad: The subtle narrative and surreal nature of the film may turn off some viewers.
The Verdict: If you prefer your movies more in the Hollywood vain, you’ll likely hate this. However, if you like your films odd and challenging, definitely get to your local theatre.
What did you think about Under The Skin? Let us know in the comments below!