Under The Skin Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 04.04.2014
Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who lures men to their deaths in Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin! But does this mindbender work or is it just an excuse to see Scarlett totally naked? 411's own Terry Lewis checks in with his full review!
Yes, Scarlett Johansson gets totally naked. If that's your thing, Under The Skin is a 10/10...
...But if you're going to watch this film just for that, well shame on you and get ready to be mind bent as British director Jonathan Glazer has a stylish and sexy, mind boggling journey for you to come along with.
An alien (Johansson, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) roams around Scotland seducing alone men in a white van and takes them away under the lure of sex for their organs to be harvest. However, through her interactions with the human race, she begins to develop human emotions and abandons her post.
It would be very easy and perhaps insulting just to dismiss Under The Skin as the "film with a naked Scarlett Johansson", when really it's perhaps one of her best performances of her career. She puts in a great physical performance for the most part with near Terminator levels of dialogue as the ever changing emotionally challenged alien with notable disappoint and instant mood change whenever some lonely individual says to her he's off to his family and the like in a really good character arc. I went it wanting this film not to come across as Species as it could have become as a brunette and sexy as hell, lipsticked up Scarlett would lead you to believe and instead got a fantastic, non-conventional storyline of an alien who has to deal with new emotions and how she reacts to it. The alien goes through an emotional break-up (I guess you can call it) after letting a physically disfigured man go from the clutches of her race and experiences pity before becoming catatonic and depressed in the rural Highlands before being taken in by a stranger. All a far cry from her robotic like qualities at the start and an engrossing performance supports a superb emotional journey.
This science fiction film is actually a fair old departure from the book of the same name. Away from the dark satire on political themes and identity, one of the differences is the fact that Johansson's character is an alien was a pretty big reveal. Here, it's a shame that it's given away in the promotional material because Under The Skin the film does a reasonably good job of downplaying the fact that the main character is an alien. Okay weird stuff is going on all the time but there's only two moments in the film barring that the end that hint of the intergalactic connotations involved. Don't expect big reveals about this alien culture though. With a "less is more" approach, we barely get a glimpse into their purpose apart from Johansson's character and her motorcycle riding enforcer gathering poor schmucks and him cleaning up her mistakes. Later on, when she is on the run or breaks away, we see a gang of these enforcers so there must be a whole culture for this race on Earth. Hell, we don't even know their name for crying out loud. When was the last time you saw that in a science fiction movie and it was done so well? Absolute perfection in gaining your attention and letting your imagination run wild with possibilities like any entry into the genre should.
The film is visually stunning. Glazer captures the grimness of the many faces of Scotland wonderfully but even throws in some beautiful shots, like with the sun's haze pouring in over Scarlett through the side window of her van. There's masterful views of people walking in and out of vision distorting elements like a dark room, a foggy road and unlit patch of grassland off a road. From a directing standpoint, the highlight is the numerous scenes where the alien picks her men in her van and the majority of them are unscripted conversations filmed using secret cameras. They feel so natural and shows off Scarlett's acting talent in a new light if you look hard enough. There's a black comedy edge too with someone as beautiful as her picking up average looking men from the various rough parts of Glasgow with their regional dialect. For all the nude scenes, they're done quite tastefully and there's no real shot or scene you could argue it's doing it just for the sake of getting Scarlett out of her clothes. In fact, fair does to her for going the whole nine yards when she is a massive A-list star and doesn't need to do it.
Actually that's one of my few gripes with the film. For all of Glazer's wonderful achievements makes with Under The Skin, I don't think it's quite "there". For all the hype behind this as a proper mind bender and Glazer being compared to Stanley Kubrick, it doesn't quite get to that point. Yes, it's a decent mind bender with such imagery as two naked men trapped in the alien preserving liquid, with one popping the still living other like a balloon after his insides have been sucked out (possibly the most horrific image you'll see in cinema in 2014), before we cut to a 30 second plus shot of a red liquid against a black background running along a channel. All well and good, but only really because it's the first we've seen of it in quite awhile. There doesn't seem to much of a point behind the film with it's mind warping. Of course, you can just say "there isn't one" and it has to be considered an acceptable answer, but for all the other achievements Glazer achieves technically there is a small disconnect between that and Scarlett character arc - Kubrick for me could get the two together seemlessly.
The 411: I asked myself one question - if you removed Scarlett as the main character and put some other pretty actress with the same acting range here, would I keep the score the same? The answer is a resounding YES. Glazer's magnus opus has just finished being made with the release of Under The Skin. A vehicle for Johansson maybe but it's bloody good one and a visual feast for the eyes in a half-decent mind bending experience. Must see.