Like its title, ‘Under the Skin’ may frustrate some moviegoers that expect everything to be neatly spelled out for them in a narrative. For those cinephiles that enjoy deeply thematic art-house fare, it’s an electrifying and powerful science fiction movie. Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) is one of those directors that make the audience work for meaning. It’s a minimalist film. The dialogue is sparse. The cinematography by Daniel Landin is dark and eerie. The music composed by Mica Levin is haunting. All of these elements are orchestrated to give the film a murky tone. Like Kubrick, Glazer takes us on a hypnotic journey. ‘Under the Skin’ is avant-garde filmmaking at its best and most extreme.
The opening sequence grabs and baffles you at the same time. It begins with a single white spot on a dark background. It gradually grows larger, and then becomes a disc that morphs into an eye. The eye belongs to a woman (Scarlett Johansson). In a white space, she undresses another woman that resembles her and puts on her clothes. With luscious red lipstick applied, Johansson plays the ultimate femme fatale. Here’s the twist, she is an alien that seduces and preys on single men. It’s not explained why she behaves this way. She drives a van around the city streets of Glasgow looking for her next victim. She offers them a ride, flirts with them and brings them back to her lair. Once inside her hideout, she seductively undresses as she moves backwards. The victim slowly walks into a liquid dark void before disappearing. Be forewarned, there is frontal nudity.
Does she need to prey on their souls for her subsistence? Again, it is not exactly clear. Night after night, the same ritual takes place with another unsuspecting victim. For authenticity, Glazer had hidden cameras mounted inside the van. They approached real-life hitchhikers and Johansson’s character improvised her interactions with the men. At times, the Scottish blokes’ accents are so thick, what they’re saying is practically unintelligible. In a way, they are just as much an alien roaming the streets of Glasgow as our seductress. Although the nature of the hunting scenes feels repetitive, Johansson holds our attention. It is captivating to watch her performance. With little dialogue, Johansson’s character arcs from an ice-cold stalker to a vulnerable creature dealing with human-like experiences.
In one early scene, she seems emotionless during an encounter on a beach. However, later in the film, she picks up a disfigured individual with elephant man features. He is embarrassed with the attention that she gives him. He’s never touched a woman and is not used to flirting with the opposite sex. It’s the outcome of their encounter that leads her to the Scottish countryside for the movie’s creepy and weird climax. If you’re expecting a conventional Scarlett Johansson movie, this is not it. She takes so many risks in this experimental film. I applaud Johansson for going outside of her comfort zone for this role and getting back to her indie roots. It’s one of her best performances since ‘Lost in Translation.’ Her next film ‘Lucy’ directed by Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) is another highly anticipated role where she plays a merciless warrior.
As mentioned, ‘Under the Skin’ raises more questions than it answers. The story touches on themes like the power of seduction. The fear of a woman’s sexual power over a man’s has been around since Genesis. It’s almost as if the men’s sexual energy is used to regenerate her power. Although she is an alien, somehow she knows how to seduce her victims. There is also an interesting character on a motorcycle that cleans up after her. What is his exact purpose? It’s anyone’s guess. Bear in mind, there are some uncomfortable scenes to watch. However, if you enjoy visual arthouse films, Scarlett Johansson’s performance should not be missed. She refuses to be typecast in blockbuster movie roles and for that reason alone, she proves her versatility as one of the best female leads in film today. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/J7bAZCOk0Sc.