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Blu-ray Review: 'Under The Skin' (2014)

Under the Skin


I doubt fewer films will be more polarizing this year than 'Under The Skin', a dark sci-fi horror film directed by Jonathan Glazer ("Sexy Beast"). Judging by recent reviews, it's a love-or-hate-it film for many viewers.

Scarlett Johansson in 2014 horror film 'Under The Skin'
Scarlett Johansson in 2014 horror film 'Under The Skin' (Film 4, BFI)

"Under The Skin" arrived on Blu-ray on July 15, 2014. It's certainly an odd singular experience. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien disguised in alluring female form. She drives a van around Scotland, picking up young men for what they assume is a night of carnal delights. But the truth is much darker. She lures men to their doom.

And I think it's fair to say that their demise is one not before seen in cinema. They follow her in her dark apt, descend into black murky water and undergo a horrific yet hypnotically transfixing transformation that one can't look away from.

This appears to give her sustenance, and her hunger grows for more victims. She's aided in her quest by a silent motorcyclist, presumably another alien aiding her in her quest.

Johansson's portrayal is impressive. She truly feels like a fish far out of water. Attempting to maintain a ruse that begins to unravel when she starts developing a primal level of empathy towards her victims.

If there is anything off-putting about the film, it's a snails pace that dulls it's impact. The endless driving scenes could have been cut far shorter and more effective. But visually it's quite beautiful, with cinematographer Daniel Landin's forming painterly compositions in out of the way Scottish landscapes.

His use of small handheld cameras gives the film a surveillance quality, as if there are alien satellite cameras tracking Johansson's movements. This gives the movie an intense, intimate quality than is at odds with it's emotionally remote character. It's a fascinating juxtaposition.

It's also an unrelentingly dark film. There are many unresolved scenes of anguish that are truly disturbing, and an ending that is cruelly bleak. Mica Levis' unnerving score heightens the tension and unease of the material.

But in it's own quiet way, it's somewhat of a triumph. Through a vague storyline and compelling visuals, it comes across like a fever dream that touches on sex, body horror and gender identity. It lives up to it's title quite effectively.

The images look crisp and clear on the Blu-ray transfer. Extras are sparse but include several production featurettes. The best of which showcases the remote locations used to shoot the film.

"Under The Skin" is Rated R and runs 108 minutes.

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