Director: Jonathan Glazer
Star: Scarlett Johansson
Under the Skin is not a movie best served by my traditional review structure, it’s not a film best served by telling you the plot, or even some stuff about how it was made. Being in the enviroment I surround myself with as a film junkie it’s pretty hard not to hear and see a lot about Under the Skin, and it’s a movie that’s best enjoyed if you see these things for the first time in the movie. The closest I can really give you is that it’s like 2001: A Space Odyssey mixed with Eraserhead, mixed with The Man Who Fell to Earth. It starts with a sequence that looks like the end of 2001: A Space Oddyssey directed in the style of Eraserhead, and this is all from the man best known for making Sexy Beast. The film famous for Ben Kingsley’s stream of expletives, now I’m no stranger to strings of expletives, in fact I embrace them, but this is such a different kind of movie to Sexy Beast. You could almost say, it’s a completely different beast. Under the Skin is a great Dirty Science Fiction film, (a term I’m trying to popularise coined by Golden Llama nominee Denis Villeneuve and his cinematographer Bradford Young for Arrival), it’s a really tense drama with hints of horror, it’s a crap rom-com, but it is still a fantastic movie.
If I was doing The Golden Llamas in 2014, Under the Skin would definitely at least have been nominated for score, cinematography, directing, editing, sound, and also best leading actress. Scarlett Johansenn is an intersting case, she has been in films since a very young age and is now best known for bid budget, high profile fare like Avengers Assemble and Lucy, but by now I guess she has enough speed boats to really pick and choose what projects she takes and when stars start get to that point it can tell you a lot about them, based on what they choose. So how pleasing is it that she took this project on? This tiny, microbudget affair from Scotland, (by the way there really needs to be more films set in Scotland), and also how pleasing is it that she’s really, really, good? The whole film really rests on her performance and she carries it off really, really well.
I used to have this film professor, who in one of his seminars went on and on about how much he hates the term reaslism, but that really is the buzzword for this movie. There’s something they, now quite famously, did during the production of this movie, it really works but knowing that going in has ruined the experience of the movie for some people so I’m going to keep my mouth shut. It works because it really authentically creates a world. The locations feel like Scarlett Johansenn is actually in Scotland. The kind of people who show up are not the kind of people who normally feature in movies but they’re the kind of people who, if you were to go out onto the streets, you might easiler run into. The locations don’t look like they were chosen purely to be cinematic they look real because they are. You really feel like an alien out on the streets with the main character.
It has incredible cinematography and score. Seriously this is one of the best shot movies I have seen in a really, really long time. When the drama opens out onto the Scottish countryside, it’s like I want every frame of this as a poster somewhere in my flat. There are many moments that just make me stop and think, ‘wow, I do live in a beautiful country’. The score is unsettling, and appropriately used. I’m seeing Jackie tonight which is scored by the same person, Mica Levi, and I can’t wait.
Under the Skin is a movie that could really take you by suprise watching it. It’s a bit slow to start out with but it very quickly becomes much weirder, more exciting, and utterly twisted than you’d have any right to reasonably expect. It’s a film that contantly finds new things to show you, constantly goes in new directions, and you can be fairly certain that whenever you think you know what’s going to happen next, everytime you think you know what direction this film is going, you’d be wrong. That is really the genius of this film. It’s a film with endless different readings, and meanings you could see in it, it’s a film that plays with your empathy in really intersting ways and I really, really like it. A lot of people will see things in reviews like surrealism, sort of senses of creeping amorphous dread and not watch it but you should give it a go. You might like it, just, be open to new things, and this is a very new thing. I think it’s a film that will benefit from multiple viewings and I, frankly, can’t wait.
WARNING THOUGH: If you are triggered by scenes of sexual assault, there is a scene of attempted rape in this movie that is one of the most viceral and disturbing attempted sexual assault sequences I have seen in quite some time. So, watch at your own discretion.