I honestly am not even sure where to start with this review. I viewed Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin over a week ago, and am still not entirely sure of how to put this film into words. Therefor this review will be a tad unique as it will, in some ways, become a stream of conscious. Undoubtedly, this film has potential to be one of the most controversial and most talked about films of 2014 for various reasons. It also has potential to be one of the greatest films of 2014. Under The Skin is an unsettling achievement of film. Part social experiment, part work of art. Where do I even begin?
Under The Skin tells a story about an otherworldly android, marvelously performed by Scarlett Johansson, who preys on men in suburban Scotland, luring them into her van before taking them back to a dingy apartment where she strips off all of her clothes, hypnotizing these poor suckers into a strange pit of liquid that harvests their organs. Eventually she encounters a man with Neurofibromatosis whom she develops sympathy for. This causes the android to spare the man’s life and run away from society in a fascinating display of self discovery.
Barrowing heavily from 1970s Sci-Fi cinema, Under The Skin is a moody, quiet, atmospheric, but most of all unsettling picture. There is hardly any dialogue within the film, but it doesn’t matter because Scarlett Johansson uses her character’s body language and her eyes to say everything that needs to be said. Just like the men on the streets of Scotland, you become so hypnotized by what you’re watching on the screen that you don’t realize you’ve just basically watched 40 minutes of Scarlett Johansson driving around Scotland picking up unsuspecting victims.
In order to get the eerie, voyeuristic vibe of these scenes, Jonathan Glazer and Director of Photography Daniel Landin hid cameras all over the van, while Scarlett Johansson genuinely drove around picking up men. The reactions, the dialogue, the awkwardness, it’s all genuine, and it’s all extremely unnerving.
What this film does, in a way, it feels, is reverse the roles of gender behavior in these scenes. By having men willingly get into a van with a beautiful woman hoping for sex, only to be harvested in the end, it tells men that they should be just as afraid as woman are when walking alone at night. In this particular world, no one is safe. It’s a theme that stuck with me for days, leading me to ask myself, what would I do in the same situation?
That’s what Under The Skin does, as a film. It makes you question things. It haunts you. Like I previous said, I saw this film over a week ago and have still been thinking about it daily. Still hearing Mica Levy’s terrifying, yet supremely fascinating score in the back of my head. It’s a perfectly titled picture, really, as this film will truly get “under your skin” in ways that you won’t be prepared for.
For that alone, is why Under The Skin is so worth your time. It’s what you wanted Beyond The Black Rainbow to be, but were so disappointed by it’s lack of… anything. So pick a day, free up a couple of hours, clear your head, and let yourself be enveloped by this haunting piece of cinema. Let it sit with you for a couple of days, and then revisit your thoughts on it. Or, you know, just go to see ScarJo’s boobs.
I give Under The Skin a 4.5 out of 5.
By Richard Pepper