If you enjoy weird artistically-driven movies filled to the brim with neat visuals and creative camerawork, you’ll love UNDER THE SKIN (2013) a thought-provoking science fiction film by writer-director Jonathan Glazer. On the other hand, if you prefer mainstream movies with straightforward storylines and traditional story-telling techniques, you might find yourself reaching for the remote.
UNDER THE SKIN is not the kind of movie you’ll find playing at your mainstream multiplex. This is a good thing, and if you’re patient and willing to go the distance, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying movie experience that is more intellectually challenging than most.
UNDER THE SKIN stars Scarlett Johansson as a mysterious woman stalking the streets of Scotland in search of men and leading them to an unfortunate fate. She drives around Scotland in a van picking up these young men, and she brings them back to a rather unusual house where—well, to avoid giving anything away, let’s just say that these men don’t return.
Who is this strange woman? Is she an alien? A robot? A serial killer? The film never really says, although since this movie is based on a novel about an alien, it’s a safe bet that she’s not from this planet.
As she continues abducting young men, she becomes cognizant of what she is doing, and she experiences an emotional epiphany which alters her actions and ultimately changes her fate.
UNDER THE SKIN is beautifully photographed by director Jonathan Glazer. He uses the contrast between light and dark brilliantly. Rather than rely on traditional dialogue to move the narrative along, Glazer prefers the use of images and camera techniques to tell his story. It all works. While things might not always be clear at first, everything in this movie eventually makes sense.
UNDER THE SKIN also has a phenomenal music score by Mica Levi. It’s weird and very horror movie-like, yet it complements the film wonderfully.
The screenplay by director Glazer and Walter Campbell based on a novel by Michel Faber succeeds in telling a story without relying solely on words. In fact, there is very little dialogue in this movie.
One of the best sequences in the film is when the woman picks up a man suffering from neurofibromatosis, and it’s in this scene where we see her really begin to evolve as a thinking being.
When she seduces the men, she places them in a sort of hypnotic state, which is so effective she nearly hypnotizes the viewer as well. Watching her seduce these men is truly a hypnotic experience, and the way it occurs on screen, it’s pretty cool.
Scarlett Johansson is to be applauded for playing a role that is far from traditional. She speaks very little dialogue, and like the rest of the movie, a lot of what she is doing and what she is all about has to be inferred, but it’s all there. You just have to pay attention.
I really liked UNDER THE SKIN. I completely bought into its artistic vision of storytelling, for the simple reason that director Jonathan Glazer covers all bases and makes sure that in spite of the obscure scenes and nontraditional way of filming, that everything you need to know for it all to make sense is there.
This is a tale of some sort of alien race preying on humans for some form of sustenance, and how one alien, the one played by Johansson, develops an awareness of what she is doing and seems to make the connection that the beings she is devouring are not cattle but highly developed creatures. She seems to almost want to become human at one point, to share in the human experience, and it’s this desire which ultimately puts her at odds with her superiors
Does everything about it work? No. As a writer, I would have enjoyed a bit more dialogue, but that being said, I am not complaining. And as much as I loved the visual style of this movie, I found that at 108 minutes it was a bit long for a movie with this kind of pacing. I did get a bit restless during the final 30 minutes or so.
But these are small matters.
As a whole I liked UNDER THE SKIN a lot.
In the mood for a science fiction film that will not insult your intelligence, but on the contrary will make you think long after it’s over, and that tells its tale not so much with words but with images, camera angles, uses of light and dark, and music?
Then check out UNDER THE SKIN.
Its title is true. It’ll get under your skin.