UNDER THE SKIN Movie Review – Scary, Sexy And Strange
On a gloomy evening in Glasgow, a woman drives a transit van across the city. She’s dressed in a fur coat with jet-black hair and blood red lips. She is stalking her prey; unassuming gentlemen walking around the Scottish city. When she finds the perfect victim, the woman pulls over. She seductively asks for directions, offers a ride and asks them if they find her attractive.
However, this is no ordinary woman. This is the internationally known superstar Scarlett Johnasson, the four-time Golden Globe nominee and star of the biggest movie of all time The Avengers. She’s playing the role of an unnamed alien in Jonathan Glazer’s third release Under The Skin, who like Johansson is also hidden in disguise. Her goal is no more ordinary either. The extra-terrestrial is posing as a human being to lure various men into her lair and feed on them.
Just as her human victims are being misled, unaware of what is really occuring, the people in these scenes did not know they were being filmed. The gentlemen Johansson flirts with are generally not professional actors; they are ordinary Glaswegian folk who just happened by. The action was captured via hidden cameras installed throughout her van as she cruises the urban streets. They were later told by Glazer and the crew it was for a film and were asked for permission to use the footage.
It’s an inspired and astonishing creative decision by Glazer, the director of Sexy Beast and Birth. It’s the perfect way to emphasise the idea of something extraordinary hiding amongst ordinary life. However, as the film sees our enigmatic hero begin to questions the nature of her victims in the film’s second half, it also accentuates the outsider perspective of our extra-terrestrial heroine.
To be honest though, it’s far from just the improvisation and voyeuristic direction that makes Under The Skin remarkable. The whole film is absolutely exceptional. Glazer has transformed the decade old novel by Michel Faber into something more or less unclassifiable. It’s a cinematic combination of Stanley Kubrick’s cold but unforgettable imagery, the stylistic flair of Nicolas Roeg and the poetic realism of Ken Loach’s locations. It’s scary, sexy, strange and funny all at once. And yet it’s also none of these things whatsoever. The experience is as alien as our hero.
And as for the hero, Scarlett Johansson has never been better than in Under The Skin. She is naturally seductive when she’s stalking her victims, yet the real revelation is how chilling Johansson can be as her prey is led to the slaughter. She is helped by the original score from Mica Levi though. The singer of the eccentric pop band Micachu And The Shapes has created something remarkable. As the alien goes for the kill, her music is a hybrid of terrifying violin screeches and ritualistic drum pounding.
Under The Skin is one of those movies that feels like a genuine revelation; a piece of filmmaking that strikes as something truly unique and unlike anything you have witnessed before. It’s an inky black masterpiece that bends convention, genre and your mind all in one fell swoop. It’s an otherworldly experience that demands your attention.