In Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer, Scarlett Johansson plays a character (she is never named) who drives around Scotland in a white van and lures men to her enclave (home would be the wrong word). These men usually never leave. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Michel Faber.
I can’t (and don’t) want to give away too much of the plot because one of the best things about Under the Skin is the while that it takes to orient yourself to the strangeness of this movie. It becomes even more fascinating once you invest yourself completely in the film. You could classify this film as science fiction, but it would be more in the same family as Duncan Jones’ Moon or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey rather than, say, Transformers. Even describing the film this way is something of a disservice because it really tries to go beyond genre and tap into something more compelling.
The film is not dialogue driven; it takes place in Scotland and Glazer made no attempt to clarify the very thick Scottish accents that some of the characters have. Instead, this film has some of the most beautiful and startling images that have been displayed on film. In an age of shaky-cam and/or special effects driven works, it’s refreshing to see a film that takes its time and seeks to challenge its viewers both visually and mentally.
The greatest strength of this film however is Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett Johansson worked very closely with Glazer, and Glazer worked the film around her. As a result, all of Johansson’s strengths as an actress are on display here. Johansson seems to work best when she is still and lets her natural charisma come through. This is a lot harder than it sounds since so many actors are not comfortable with silence and stillness. And even though she doesn't talk or emote much, we end up feeling for her character, no matter how strange and alienating some of her actions are. Scarlett Johansson knew exactly what Jonathan Glazer’s vision was, and she plays her role perfectly.
A Note on the Book
The original book by Michel Faber is starkly different from the film simply because Faber delves into the main character’s mind and Glazer chose not to. Instead, the film merely hints at what is going on in the character’s mind and lets Johansson's actions speak for themselves. The film’s plot is also very different although the core elements remain the same. I liked the original book very much, but I liked the film as well. The film almost acts as a spinoff of the book rather than an adaptation. Both the film and the book are worth checking out, but do not expect quite the same experience for each one.