under_the_skin_2Year: 2014
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writer(s): Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer, Michel Faber
Region of Origin: US, UK
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 108 mins

Synopsis: An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland. (Source)

For better or worse (I say better), Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin is unlike anything you’ll see this year. Its slow burn pacing and impressionistic narrative will no doubt turn many viewers off, but those in tune to its enigmatic, sensuous brand of storytelling will find it tremendously refreshing. At its core, Glazer’s created one of the most unsettling and hypnotic films about human connection. Scarlett Johansson delivers a nuanced, affecting performance that hooks us until the mind-blowing end, while Glazer’s sophisticated restraint makes us redefine our perception of what it means to be human. This is truly the type of film not meant to be digested in a single viewing, and appropriately, it’s the type of art that penetrates on a more primal level, leaving us with a visually ravishing, visceral experience we can’t soon forget.

Based on a novel by Michel Faber, the voyeuristic narrative follows an unnamed creature on an undisclosed mission. Disguised in the skin of an attractive woman (Scarlett Johansson), the being lures men into her van, seducing them and taking them to a mysterious place where everything but their flesh is harvested. What exactly is happening and why is never explicitly stated, but the further the being connects with humans, the more she begins to care for them and the skin which conceals her true identity. Soon enough, she leaves her group to explore everything that our bewildering planet has to offer – what she discovers is stunning, poignant and ultimately terrifying.

While the film’s simple plot can be easily summarized in a few sentences, the film sets itself apart from its peers by making the journey as important as the unmistakably humane observations it evokes. Glazer’s eye for gorgeous abstract visuals do all the heavy lifting here (there’s barely any dialogue), juxtaposing stark, minimal compositions and macro photography with poignant existentialism, all while Mica Levi’s entrancing score pulls us deeper into the film’s Kubrickian labyrinth. Those familiar with Glazer’s music video output will notice how it’s informed his narrative, using an inextricable mixture of ambiguous sight and sound to get intuitive reactions from the viewer. Thematically, there’s a lot going on even if it’s defiantly elusive, from the subversion of Johansson’s femme fatale, to the way the film offers us the most basic human desires and necessities out of context. At the very least, the film is a highly experimental piece of work, taking full advantage the medium’s tools to arouse all of our senses.

under_the_skin_3Still, the most striking thing about the film may very well be Scarlett Johansson herself – and not because she bares all. As an alien masquerading in a foreign land, Johansson turns in one of the most unique performances I’ve seen in a good while, drawing apt comparisons’ to Bowie’s Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Her character is so truly alien on every level, utilizing subtle mannerisms, slow, deliberate interactions with her environment and a genuinely rapturous, yet cautious sense of wonder that’s psychologically jarring; she’s simply irresistible in every frame. In the end, Johanssson’s transformation from curious bystander to captive participant is one that has to be seen – it’s career defining stuff.

In the way that Johansson’s character discovers her body through a darkly lit mirror, Under The Skin is a moody reflection that forces us to dissect the unfathomable and perplexing world we live in, along with our relationships with the people around us. Every frame looks as if it was pulled from a sophisticated art book and the psychological terror and wonder on display brings an uneasy alliance that’s wholly captivating. As it turns out, we’re all aliens to one another.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5