Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Scarlett Johansson
It got under mine!
Not many films can get away with having one main character who is never developed, and a plot that virtually goes nowhere, yet is still better than the majority of films that come out every week. You know if you’re going to like Under the Skin right from the fantastic trippy opening which mixes a haunting atonal score with long takes of beautiful images, which you don’t quite know what they are. From that wonderful Lynchian opening, I knew that this was going to be the film for me, and it was.
Under the Skin is a film that begs to be seen on a big screen with loud surround sound. It’s a full on sensory experience which combines dreamlike visuals with a phenomenal atmospheric soundtrack. I was oddly gripped as Scarlett (the unnamed alien) drove around aimlessly, chatting to strange Scottish men and eventually leading them to… Well… I don’t really know what!
One of the great things about Under the Skin is its ambiguity. Nothing is ever explained, which is why a hugely eerie and unsettling atmosphere is maintained throughout. We’re not even explicitly told that Scarlett is an alien! We don’t know what she’s leading these men to, or how she does it and we’re also never told who this motorcyclist following Scarlett is. It all makes for a very haunting and gripping experience, although it may infuriate others.
The film is at its best when it’s at its most surreal. These are the scenes where Scarlett leads the men to an incredibly dreamlike black canvas. I won’t describe what happens here, all I’ll say is that it’s absorbing to watch. Some of the scenes that take place here reminded me of something from David Lynch’s masterpiece, Eraserhead. The use of sound here is also very creative and arresting. A sharp unexpected stinging sound almost had me jumping out of my seat!
Scarlett Johansson is also absolutely brilliant here. Her British accent is flawless, and she gives off an air of mystery, power and beauty. She’s the sexiest alien since the queen in Aliens. The scenes where she’s talking to the various male strangers are oddly gripping. They also feel hyper-realistic because I’m told that many of them were men who were being filmed covertly.
The film is impeccably directed. It is definitely reminiscent of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and (more recently) Nicholas Winding-Refn. I got a very strong Only God Forgives vibe throughout actually, because it has the similar dreamlike quality and mesmerising slow pace and directing. Under the Skin is definitely not for everyone though. If you’re not used to these slow arty films (or just hate them altogether) then you’re going to find it a very tough, boring slog indeed. Fans of Lynch and surreal dreamlike films (like me!) are going to find much to like though.
Whilst the final third of Under the Skin does falter a little bit, the first two thirds are unbelievably strong and its final moments are full of haunting and disturbing imagery which will have your mind racing afterwards. It’s a master-class in the power and effectiveness of surrealistic imagery and sound. It’s a film which I lost myself into, and couldn’t help but be gripped by its enigmatic strangeness. It’s a shame that not many people will get the chance to see this at the cinema, because it’s where it is going to have its biggest impact. Nevertheless, it’s still an unmissable experience which you must seek out immediately. Just be sure to watch it in complete darkness with the sound turned way up.