United Kingdom / United States / Switzerland
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writers: Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer (screenplay), Michel Faber (novel)
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
Release Dates: August 29, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival) / April 4, 2014 (United States)
Under the Skin is as extraterrestrial a film as its lead character. It took me on a tour through humankind and left me seeing this world from an all-new view.
Each Jonathan Glazer film is wildly unique. Sure, that's a rather unremarkable achievement when you've only made three films, but the filmmaker is working on an exciting level in his feature length endeavors that makes each a project worth seeking out. Glazer is also improving with each film making his latest, Under the Skin, my favorite of the three.
With the shortest synopsis I've come across in a while ("An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland."), fevered praise since last year's Telluride Film Festival, and a trailer evoking the brainwaves of David Lynch, I was psyched to take this ride. What I wasn't planning on was for it to be as meditative yet linear as it is.
There's a clear beginning to end, from an uncommented formation (Birth) to the adventures of said creature (Sexy Beast) played by starlet Scarlett Johansson. The middle is Johansson doing very much what the premise promises. She drives from town to town (and the countryside in-between) in her cargo van. We assume her perspective in the most populated parts and slowly cruise through, prowling for the susceptible. She gives men a lift, tempts them to follow her "home," and you'll have to see the film for yourself to know what she does after that.
It's also the best work I've seen from ScarJo. We can see the calculations on her countenance during each exchange with mankind and then behold the full-body demonstration as she teases her prey with grace. It's animalistic: serpentine in her seduction, cat-like in her walk, and eventually the fleeing of a frightened doe. We sense a newfound portrayal of the deadliest creature of all: a woman.
There's much to read into in Under the Skin. That synopsis did us the favor of sparing fan theories. It already is the most unlikely leaving us to consider what else could be meant by the turning of gender tables. After one encounter opens a new avenue for the film to explore we see the alien in a new light. Perhaps not since E.T. have I been as forced to look at our world the way it would seem to an outsider. How hospitable/hostile can our planet be?
Under the Skin abducts the audience into a study hall of human behavior and desires, then leaves us to wake up in a field, blinking in the darkness and wondering what the hell just happened. It's a ride unlike any other. Two couples in my theater left during the most visually arresting and truly terrifying sequence. Such a thought never even dawned on me.