Dammit, I was trying to avoid reviewing Under The Skin ever since I watched it. No matter what I say about it I’ll be accused of only liking the film because its oblique and art-house by at least one person . However the fact is I liked it. I think. Yes its pretentious, yes its self-indulgent, but I was captivated from start to finish. Its that kind of movie that is almost impossible to review without sounding like a dick but i’m going to try anyway. Buckle in.
The story is very basic. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien in human skin that drives around Scotland in a van picking up men who she takes home and…. I’d like to say that i’m avoiding a spoiler but in reality I’m still not sure what she does with them. We see her doing this a few times before one encounter changes something in her and she goes off mission. If I’m sounding vague that’s because this is a movie that’s difficult to interpret, and its obvious that this is the purpose of the film. Johansson’s character barely talks apart from when she needs to to do the job she’s here for. In lieu of an obvious emotional performance director Jonathan Glazer uses imagery to convey feeling. We see shots of various Glaswegians (despite this not being a horror film), sunrises, and motorways.
All of these images are presented for the viewer without much explanation. At what point is it fair to say a filmmaker is trying to confuse an audience because there’s no actual substance? When is it apparent you’re being tricked into seeing meaning where there actually isn’t any? Well those are questions that I can’t answer but I feel like Under The Skin is the genuine article. Is the film about the frequent beauty and brutality of the human race? As the running time increases the beauty of the landscapes increases at the same time as the evil of men increases. Is this on purpose or am I looking too much into it. Oh wait, Scarlett’s boobs! What was I saying again?
Recommending Under The Skin is difficult as many people will hate it while some will love it. I fall somewhere in between. I loved the imagery and Johansson’s portrayal of the alien. I didn’t love some of the self-indulgent loooooonnnnngggg takes that Glazer uses adding bloat without reward. Ultimately its a troubling, unique, experience that treads a fine line between pretension and art. Its also a cautionary tale warning about how sexy alien chicks in vans who seduce you might then horribly dispose of you. From what I saw in the movie I think i’ll take my chances in the van.