UK Release Date: 14th March 2014
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writer: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Synopsis: A sinister alien woman travels to Earth and preys on lustful men. One of her targets, however, teaches her something about what it means to be vulnerable and alone.
Garnering five-star reviews from many critics, Under The Skin looked set to be a slice of quality arthouse sci-fi from Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer. Unfortunately, it’s nothing of the sort and instead is the kind of pretentious guff that comes from a filmmaker desperate to show just how intelligent they are.
An alien (Scarlett Johansson) steals the body of an attractive young female in Scotland and begins to stalk the local male population. Those she captures dissolve into an odd black fluid and are seemingly harvested. When one of her victims shows her the true meaning of vulnerability, she begins to soften as she suffers an identity crisis.
Under The Skin is a film tailor-made for critical acclaim. It’s artsy from start to finish and its plot is opaque enough that adjectives like Kubrickian and Lynchian practically beg to be used. It’s a film that cineastes feel they should like, whether they actually enjoy themselves or not.
| "You’re very charming."
Ambiguity in cinema is something that should often be welcomed. But that’s not to say that a film can get away with simply eschewing plot entirely. Not since Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life has a film been so guilty of plotlessness as Under The Skin. It merely meanders through the life of its protagonist, refusing to engage its audience on either an entertaining level or an intellectual one.
That said, there are things to be enjoyed. Scarlett Johansson’s near-wordless central performance has the brittle, other-worldly quality that it needs to be believable and Daniel Landin’s cinematography makes Scotland look genuinely beautiful. One scene, in which Johansson is unmoved by a horrible tragedy at the beach marries these two strengths to great effect.
But unfortunately, the good work present in Under The Skin is consistently undermined by an unavoidable feeling that the film just wants to look clever. The pacing is glacial, the surreal interludes are beyond unintelligible and the finale packs no emotional punch whatsoever.
There’s some mildly interesting stuff in there about the nature of body image and human obsession with sex, but it’s buried underneath the bizarre stylistic choices and depressing navel-gazing.
| "Do you think I’m pretty?"
Under The Skin is a potentially interesting movie, hampered by a desire to be opaque and intelligent. It’s everything wrong with the notion of arthouse cinema summed up in a single film.
Pop or Poop?
Under The Skin is a handsomely-made film, ruined by the fact that it plays out like a cynical, overly intelligent student art movie. It’s the modern equivalent of the early curios of David Cronenberg.
Johansson is solid in the lead role and the notion of hidden camera filming is used effectively. But these factors need to be part of a bigger whole – and they just aren’t.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.