Aliens that abduct people and do really horrible things with them. An alien that looks past her job and into exactly what it means to be the things she’s tasked to collect. Heavy, man.
If I had to grade Under the Skin, I’d give it a B. Truly avant-garde filmaking, and not just for weirdness’ sake. But it’s a love/hate proposition that not everyone will clamor for.
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Twitview — Scarlett Johansson bares more than her skin in this acid-trip sci-fi story. And it pays off.
You’re probably used to seeing Scarlett Johansson being an A-#1 Badass lately. With The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the upcoming Lucy, she’s all sortsa fierce. But in Under the Skin, she plays a no-named alien whose mission is to lure men to a black room, where they’re sucked into a pit and…well, not quite sure. Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) gives you an intimate look into the life of a creature that lives to carry out her orders. It’s a fascinating look, and a damn intriguing film. Truth be told, you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Glazer’s strange, wandering storytelling, and his freaky way of giving no character a name will either drive you bonkers, or allow you to sink in and immerse yourself in the story. Think of Under the Skin as a sci-fi art film, one that’s more interested in mood and performance than substance. It asks the question what does it mean to be human, and gives no real answers. If you’re okay with that, you’ll be amazed at the performances and themes in the film. If not? Well, you’ll most likely want to see me roast in hell for telling you this movie is fascinating stuff. Potato, po-tah-to.
What really drew me in was Johansson’s performance. No, not the fact that she’s all sorts of nekkid here; as a truly alien being, her character has no qualms about stripping down to get a look at what’s going on, or to get the job done as cleanly as possible. Johansson delivers a performance so stripped of artifice that it’s hard to remember that she’s really a human being, and not a dispassionate alien observing our world and wondering at the strangeness of it all. Johansson’s stumbling, blank-eyed movement through the story nails that otherness without resorting to caricature.
Her fellow alien, who also has no name and only seems to live for riding his motorbike and cleaning up after Johansson’s temptress, doesn’t have a single line in the film, and truly random people serve as the men that are lured into her web. (No, seriously; after filming a scene where non-actors interact with Johansson, the men signed waivers if they wanted to be in the film.) As the huntress begins to focus on her outer appearance — her shell of skin, as it were — she begins to consider what she does and what these humans are. It’s a slow build to a conclusion that is less a climax than an ending point for the story. This isn’t a beginning-middle-end film, it’s a slice of alien life.
I’ve gotta hand it to Glazer for this guerrilla-style filmmaking. Why? Because it accomplishes exactly what he intends it to do; it gives viewers an opportunity to see human beings as something other and strange, a group of living things that are intriguing but hard to understand. Johansson works well in this “shoot first and edit later” style, and her eyes convey a change from cool and unresponsive to a haunted creature trying to understand those she’s hunting. There’s also none of the typical Exposition Fairy characters, or long pauses in story as the viewers are caught up on the goings-on. Viewers are dropped into her world, and expected to follow along. This actually works in the film’s favor, as the alien herself is our touchstone, and we see everything as she would, understanding or uncomprehending things as she would.
Under the Skin isn’t a movie you watch, it’s a movie you experience. And it’s probably not the type of film that anyone would watch over and over again for fun (though a few repeated viewings would most likely lend depth and a bit of irony that a first viewing couldn’t).