Under The Skin

*****

Reviewed by: Stuart Crawford

Scarlett Johansson in Under The Skin
"A film that seeks to challenge and alienate its audience from the get-go, knowing full well that it won't win all of them back."

There are a number of comparisons being thrown at Jonathan Glazer's latest work: Cronenberg, Kubrick, Loach. It has about it a hint of Death Watch, a suggestion of Species, a passing resemblance to Morvern Callar.

In terms of mood and emotional impact, though, the closest match is David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE. Here, too, we explore the depths of alienation of a cold and curious female protagonist, the precise nature of her distress left as a puzzle for the viewer to solve. In both films sound is wielded as a weapon, art aspiring to the condition of visceral, disturbing music. Neither is watched so much as downloaded directly into the skull and then decompressed over the course of days and weeks. Under The Skin, then, is aptly named.

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Scarlett Johansson turns in a magnificent performance as a nameless alien succubus come to Earth to lure unsuspecting men to an inconceivably photogenic demise. She prowls the streets of Glasgow in an old white van, charming the vulnerable and the unwary, exploiting their perceptions of her own vulnerability. Later, she takes to wandering the streets, no more adrift and alone than any Hollywood A-lister would find herself on the Trongate. These scenes were filmed with concealed cameras, capturing members of the public whose consent to appear was only sought after the fact. A bold approach, and one that well serves the director's purposes. There's not a plot so much as an extended character arc, following Johansson into the Scottish Highlands as she pursues a burgeoning intellectual interest in her prey.

Anyone seeking a conventional narrative or an immediately comprehensible cinematic experience would do well to avoid Under The Skin: it's a film that seeks to challenge and alienate its audience from the get-go, knowing full well that it won't win all of them back. Persistence is rewarded, however: it's difficult to explain the emotional intensity underlying the whole film, due in equal parts to exceptional sound design and a bravura central performance. Allow Scarlett Johansson to weave her magic and there's a fair chance that she'll pull you under.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2014
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An alien in human form takes a roadtrip across Scotland.
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Director: Jonathan Glazer

Writer: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer based on the novel by Michel Faber

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Krystof Hádek, Jessica Mance, Scott Dymond, Joe Szula, Michael Moreland, Lee Fanning, Ben Mills, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Jeremy McWilliams, Gerry Goodfellow, Adam Pearson, Oscar Mills, Stephen Horn

Year: 2013

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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