[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00J22YUNU][/pullquote] In the space of just three movie spread over more than a decade, Jonathan Glazer has established himself as one of Britain’s most distinctive film-makers. While Sexy Beast and Birth, Glazer showed great skill and promise, Under the Skin sees Glazer refine his craft even further, revealing a director with a unique vision and the determination and ability to see it through.
Under The Skin is a brilliant, singular film that was more than 10 years in the making. Adapted from Michael Faber’s source novel, Glazer kept revising the script until it became the sparse, unsettling but mesmerising tale he’s now brought to the big screen.
It begins in startling fashion. A pinpoint of light in blackness gradually taking shape as (what we gather) is some sort of alien entity taking human form. This abstract scene, big on mood and discordant noises, sets the tone for the film and has echoes of both Kubrick and Lynch.
Scarlett Johansson is the alien in human form, the Hollywood A-lister donning unkempt black wig, bright red lipstick, stonewashed jeans and fake fur as she prowls the mean streets of Glasgow and the imposing Scottish landscape looking for lonely humans to seduce. An equally mysterious motorbike rider appears to be her Mr Fix-it, clearing up the evidence after she’s had her wicked way with the men she picks up.
What her wicked way is is difficult to describe. It entails enticing them back to a derelict house with the promise of sex. But as she and her victims disrobe, she leads them to their doom in what appears to be a pool of black, life-sucking liquid. So far, so weird.
What’s really strange though is seeing our world through the outsider’s eyes. The attitudes and behaviour we see every day seems odd when viewed with detachment; hen parties, night clubs, crowded streets and shopping malls all seem like bizarre, alienating places.
Johansson’s ice cold seductress, with her middle class English accent and big white van, shows no emotion towards her victims until she happens across a young man with a facial deformity who isn’t brash and full of himself like the others. In an awkward but touching scene, they talk and she senses he is different to the rest.
This encounter seems to signal a change in her. She drives off into the country and a thick fog, uncertain and disorientated. After more brief, disturbing encounters, her short time on Earth ends in abrupt, shocking fashion.
With hardly any dialogue and a plot that involves a series of random episodes, Under The Skin is hardly mainstream fare. Many will find it frustratingly weird and wilfully abstract. These are the reasons to like it.
This is not conventional sci-fi at all and if you read the synopsis about an alien in female form seducing men and assume you’re getting another take on Species or Lifeforce, well, think again. By turns, brutal, beautiful, odd and disconcerting, Under The Skin is an immersive cinematic experience unlike anything else around at the moment. It’s brave, uncompromising film-making that is not afraid to make us feel baffled or uncomfortable at times.
It’s also a brave move for Scarlett Johansson who shows that while she’s a Hollywood star she’s also prepared to take risks. She’s brilliantly restrained and mysterious in this film, the ultimate femme fatale.
Under The Skin won’t be to everyone’s taste and apparently it drew both cheers and boos at festival screenings.