Synopsis: An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Running Length: 108 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: I’m glad I’ve had some time to digest the experience I had watching Under the Skin because it’s a film that doesn’t warrant a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, if you see Under the Skin (and you really should), resist the urge from asking/giving your opinion on it until you’ve had a chance to let it settle. You may still find you feel the same as you did weeks later as when you originally saw it, but the film provided me more than a little food for thought after the fact.
I get the impression that quite a lot of people will be turned off by the structure of the near wordless film that takes almost two hours to say what could have been conveyed in a 40 minute short. Offering little to no explanation/exposition, you’re left to fend for yourself to piece together what’s going on with a beautiful woman driving around the Scotland countryside picking up random men and bringing them back to a house of horror for…well…I’m still not quite sure.
Even if I did have a strong opinion as to what the shady lady is doing, I wouldn’t spill the beans here because as I thought more about the film it was that ambiguity and unknown motivation that began to gnaw at me. I’ve been weaned on movies and television shows that can’t help but explain everything so the audience can feel better about what they’re watching and that reluctance by director Jonathan Glazer to force-feed us an easy solution makes the film quite fascinating.
I’ve not always been the biggest fan of Scarlett Johansson (in a complete 180 from last week’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier), finding her to be a bit on the dull side and its precisely her vanilla style that makes her near perfect for the role. Clearly not of this earth, Johansson nails the “stranger in a strange land” arc, giving her all to the role which requires her to show full nudity portrayed quite tastefully in an art-house chic sort of way. With less than a page of dialogue in the entire film, it’s up to Johansson to play several different themes: the huntress and the innocent being the most predominant.
As Johansson captures these men (many of whom were non-actors picked up by the actress on the street who didn’t know they were being filmed) the film settles into a cyclic style that’s heavy on repetition…an important piece of structure because when she deviates from the plan we begin to see why things may be going awry. When she sets her sights on a disfigured man, a fracture occurs inside whatever her endgame is that sets into motion a riveting and tense third act.
If I’m being deliberately vague about the film, it’s partly because the film is hard to pin down and partly because I don’t want to give details away that will take away from what you may get out of the film. I found the film to be frustrating at times, brilliant at others. In fact, the final five minutes of the film were so haunting, I still have trouble shaking some of the images out of my brain.
Definitely not for everyone, Under the Skin is also not quite in the realm of being solely for art-house prigs that would sit for two hours in silence watching a bird build a nest. Though it seems a solemn nut to crack, it’s worth the effort.