Under The Skin is a movie that will probably alienate a lot of its audience. A lot of people will go into this expecting a movie star driven sci-fi/horror movie but what they will get is a contemplative art house movie with a star that barely speaks.
Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 movie follows Scarlett Johansson’s nameless alien as she travels through the streets of Glasgow picking up men. She takes them back to her rundown home where they are swallowed by a back void. An unseen force then obliterates their insides, leaving their skin floating in a watery abyss. Things take a turn in the last act when Johansson takes off into the Scottish countryside and befriends a man who lives a quiet and lonely existence. She then tries to integrate into the human life that she has mimicked but discovers there is a vast difference between playing human and being human.
Glazer’s movie is light on dialogue and heavy on atmosphere as we move through the grim and gritty streets of Glasgow. It’s an unglamorous movie that is as dark and grey as the wintry Scottish skies, under which the tale is set. Scarlett Johansson impresses as the mysterious alien who lures the unwitting men to their deaths. She doesn’t have a lot of dialogue (nobody does) and the lines she does deliver are in a cut-glass English accent.
This is a very deliberately paced piece that has an unearthly detachment, which feels like the ‘70s work of Nicolas Roeg. While the film has a traditional three act structure, the story unravels in an unconventional way as Glazer takes the audience on a journey that may not be enjoyable, but it is impressive. He spent over a decade honing his script, making sure that he developed and made the movie that he wanted to. It’s obvious that it needed a star with the clout of Scarlett Johansson to get this unconventional film made, but this works both ways as Johansson gets to stretch as an actress between comic book adaptations.
A bold and daring film, Under The Skin is an instant cult classic that will be dissected by film fans for years to come. On a superficial level the film sounds like every other alien falls to earth story, but Jonathan Glazer’s film is much deeper than that. This is a film that is steeped in the vision of its director, a slow burning artist endeavour that deals with a wide range of themes such as isolation, loneliness and human interaction.