Review by-Jarrett Leahy
“A masterpiece!” “Artsy-fartsy garbage.” “The best film of 2014.” “The worst movie I’ve ever seen!” Any film that can create such diversely opposing yet equally passionate reactions would certainly fall under the category of being a polarizing or divisive film. I suspect that many casual movie fans and more than a handful of those with a discerning appreciation for finer cinema will have a difficult time embracing the ambiguity and esoteric nature of Under The Skin. The premise is quite simple: an alien entity has taken human form and, with the help of another alien being, begins covertly wreaking havoc on the male population of Scotland, using her extremely voluptuous allure to entice lonely fellas into her van for a good time, only to devour these poor unsuspecting saps.
Sounds intriguingly similar to films like Species, right? Well it most definitely is. However, what many have had issue with is the way filmmaker Jonathan Glazer took a familiar sci-fi premise and completely deconstructed it, using overtly opaque symbolism and visuals to play with the viewers’ minds and create unusual moments of distortion. Instead of depicting these unlucky gentlemen simply being eaten by killed by these extraterrestrials, Glazer uses an unusually abstract visual of the men slowly sinking into the black floor as they longingly pursue this sexual creature across a stark, empty room. I found this artistic abstraction to be an erotic and suggestive re-imagining of an archetypal scene abundantly found in the alien sub-genre of science fiction cinema. It appears unfortunately, not everyone was so appreciative of Glazer’s unconventional efforts.
In large part, this film is told from the perspective of this alien creature who has yet developed the know-how to filter out the over-stimulation of this foreign population. A cacophonous, discordant musical score, the overtly chaotic use of background noises, and layered, over-saturated colors and graphics all add a feeling of discord as this creature is bombarded by this new world around her. During an early scene where she wanders into a local mall searching for various beauty supplies to aid in her mission, an unrelentingly turbid hum of conversations and laughing besiege her from all sides. Some will find these tumultuous visuals ingenious, others will simply be exasperated.
Scarlett Johansson offers one of the most unexpected and noteworthy performances of her career. Johansson precisely captures the cold, deadpan facial expressions of this foreign invader who has little experience with true human emotion. Only during times when she is on the prowl, do we see her character offer what she perceives is a personality that will efficiently beguile her marks. The film puts her character in a bevy of situations that would illicit even the most basic of emotional response in just about any human to help patently exhibit the utter disconnect she has for her prey. As the film progresses however, we can see slivers of change in this character, thanks in large part to Johansson’s astutely understated portrayal. Unfortunately for many, Under The Skin will simply be regarded as the film Johansson finally stripped down. But rarely do we see movie stars of Scarlett’s immense fame take on such high risk roles, and in certain circles, this film will be yet another example of how gifted and diverse an actress she truly is.
Under The Skin is a bizarrely unconventional and polarizing piece of science fiction that has both wowed and angered viewers. However, whether you love it or loathe it, I can promise you’ll have a difficult time forgetting the jolting images of the film’s final scenes. Another example of advanced cinema, I found Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin to be an abstract, re-imagining of the body snatchers fable that completely engulfed me in its hallucinatory, mystifying terror. Never has the Scottish countryside felt and looked so ominously menacing. The cinematography is an intoxicating feast for the eyes and Scarlett Johansson gives a truly carnal performance that is both captivating and unnerving.-JL