Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Opening with an extreme close up of the creation of an eye, on visuals alone “Under the Skin” should be nominated for something; my God! But while visually something of a master class from director Jonathan Glazer (Birth) structurally “Under the Skin” is more tedious than not. Here’s a great example of what I mean: Scarlett Johansson is fully nude in this movie; multiple times. And by the third or fourth time, I was checking my watch because NOTHING WAS HAPPENING!
Very loosely based on Michel Faber’s critically acclaimed novel of the same name, this stripped down (no pun intended) sci-fi, follows an alien who takes on the physical form of Scarlett Johansson, as she wanders the Scottish countryside, luring young men back to her home and…well I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet. Let’s just say, at that point things get a bit intense…but not how you might think.
While the plot is intriguing, structurally not a whole hell of a lot happens within the confines of nearly two hours. But for a while (Act 1 and a bit of Act 2) even during the high level of non-plot development, “Under the Skin” held my interest by using the tactic of baiting me with a visually stunning and/or uncomfortably hypnotizing sequence, letting my interest wane with some figurative walking in circles, then once again regaining my interest by showing me something shocking, only to start the process all over again. As anyone would imagine, this tactic becomes tedious after a bit. And around the 80 minute mark, when the unforgivably late inciting incident finally arrives and Glazer chooses to move the plot forward with more purpose, his initial tactic seems to make much of the first hour’s plot all but pointless.
Honestly, the pacing wouldn’t have been such an issue if it had translated into something of a slow burn. But after a certain point, around the time Johansson’s character begins to have her internal moral dilemma (the inciting incident) at the end of the second Act, the story crumbles under its own pacing, as the plot seems to have been stretched so thin that not even a visually stunning and emotionally powerful final sequence could sway me into recommending this film.
Most of the imagery, which ranges from beautifully symbolic to hypnotizing-ly grotesque and unsettling, stems from Glazer once again proving his visual prowess. That said, he also once again allows an outside-of-the-box concept to crawl about aimlessly, until it is no longer as intriguing, but more so, weird and/or uninteresting.
Final Thought: I don’t know if I can reiterate enough how generously laced “Under the Skin” is with wonderful cinematography and technically brilliant camerawork. The avant-garde score goes hand in hand with the overall concept and the acting is decent, even though (as an American) I could have used subtitles to fully get a handle on the Scottish dialect. But the simple fact is, the plotting and pacing weren’t handled well at all. I guess what I’m really trying to say is (in conclusion): This was a very odd choice of project for Scar Jo to make the decision to participate in her first full frontal nude scene.
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