I have never seen a film so effectively original as Under the skin. It has at times some of the same imaginative qualities of Stalanley Kybric’s 2001: A space odyssey and the nightmarish atmosphere of David Lynch’s Mulholland drive. But I am quite convinced of one thing : it is its own beast. The screenplay (adapted from Michel Faber’s novel, but barely recognizable) leaves lots of room for interpretations. Scarlett Johansson plays an unnamed woman who, we are led to believe, is an alien that has taken a human form. She drives around in a truck, asking men for directions, seducing and luring them to her apartment. To tell you more of what happens there, would spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that what is done to those men is beautifully strange, dark and cruel. The alien woman (like british director Jonathan Glazer and his crew) observes daily life on earth. In one moment she sees a drowning couple and kills the man who tried to save them. In another scene she picks up a man who is terribly deformed, then later on releases him. The alien woman gradually starts feeling more and more human and starts diverting from her mission. Under the skin is actually an experimental film disguised as a sci-fi film. It is peculiar because of Glazer’s use of documentary techniques (see bellow) in the context fiction film. The special effects are so beautiful that you feel you are in an art gallery, and you could actually say that about the entire film. Scarlett Johansson is one fearless, gutsy actress. She meets every challenges and demands to create a complex, scary, seductive and disturbing character. Visually stunning, dark but beautiful work by cinematographer Daniel Landin, who filmed on location in Glasgow, Scotland. And that score by Mica Levi scratches, or vibrates, or does whatever needs to be done to keep us on the edge of our seat, completely mesmerized. Everybody working on that film is brilliant. Not everyone is going to agree. Under the skin is going to annoy a lot of people. Too many things are left unexplained, left to our interpretation. It is also a violent, cruel film. But as scary as the actions of the alien woman are, it is the scenes of men attacking her that are shocking us. Not for every one to be sure. But this reviewer thinks Under the skin is a masterpiece.
You should know… Under the skin took 10 years to make. The adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel had several drafts. One earlier version had two aliens disguised as farmers, with Brad Pitt attached to the project. Apart from Johansson, Glazer mostly uses non-actors to play the men who become the alien’s prey. With a camera hidden in the back of Johansson’s truck , she had unscripted conversations with men. They were then asked to take part in the film and explained what the had to do (Including nudity). And when Scarlett Johansson accidentally fell on a sidewalk, it was kept in the film.
Under the skin