Under the Skin: An Intense & Unnerving Sci-Fi Film
By: Jen Richards
Jonathan Glazer’s latest film, Under the Skin, is one that invokes strong feelings. Based loosely on the book by Michel Faber, and starring Scarlett Johansson, it is a creepy, close up look at what it is like for a being not of this world to experience it.
Glazer has been compared to both Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch and I can see why. The tone and mood he uses are dark and twisted. The music and sound are done in a minimalist fashion and effectively set the viewer on edge. The cinematography is artful and stunning. Filmed in Scotland, the natural beauty of the country side starkly contrasts the city scenes and scenes involving unearthly matters. Glazer worked for over a decade creating this film and his attention to detail is palpable.
One of the more interesting aspects of Under the Skin is that there are several characters played by ordinary men who have no acting experience. Johansson, almost unrecognizably disguised, drove around Glasgow in a van cruising for men. The alien she portrays has been sent to earth to hunt and harvest men. Glazer hid in the back of the van filming, and men were asked to sign waivers to appear in the film after being picked up and caught on camera.
This is a film that inspired conversation and debate. I overheard people saying they loved it, others that they couldn’t stand it, and still more expressing confusion and uncertainty as to their feelings about it. I place myself in that third group. I am not sure if it is the masterpiece and instant classic that some argue it is. But I certainly don’t want to dismiss it or add to my worst movies list like some others. Under the Skin is a fascinating, somewhat traumatizing piece of art. I found myself captivated, curious and uncomfortable for much of the film.
Johansson had her work cut out for her with this character, and rose to the challenge. It is one of her best and certainly most unusual roles to date. It has been an intriguing year or so for Johansson whose voice was one of the leads in Her, the brilliant film written and directed by Spike Jonze. She also co-starred in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which opened up the same week as Under The Skin. It is refreshing to see a mega movie star choosing such a diverse range of roles and films.
It should be noted that Under the Skin easily raises more questions than it answers, and that giving too much away would detract from the astounding experience of viewing it. I am planning to read the book, though do not expect it will solve many of the mysteries I took away from the film but my fingers are crossed.
Film buffs, sci-fi lovers, and anyone drawn to bizarre, thought provoking art should see this movie. Under the Skin will be released on DVD on July 15th. I recommend you not watch it alone.
About the Author: Jen nerds out about many things, particularly: travel, pop culture, and wine. Jen grew up in Seattle in a family of all boys. Her early obsessions included The Labyrinth, The Go-go’s, NW masterpiece Twin Peaks, and all things French. In her teen years music became her primary focus- especially the Riot grrrl scene, alternative, and Brit pop. College was filled with the likes of zine writing, feminist activism, The X-files, Tori Amos, and the novels of Tom Robbins. World travel started as a hobby and evolved into a way of life after university. After more than eight years at sea working for a major cruise line, two years in the Peace Corps in Senegal, and numerous backpacking trips, Jen has travelled to all 7 continents and over 125 countries. Jen has a BS in Psychology and a BA in Women’s Studies from the University of Utah. You can find her blog about traveling here.