Under The Skin (2014)

Johansson gives a perturbing and positively entrancing performance.

Johansson gives a perturbing and positively entrancing performance.


INTRODUCTION. In spite of great anticipation I had not known anything concrete about Under The Skin short of “alien in disguise” prior to screening. And to be honest, I’m not sure if anything could have prepared me for the forthcoming experience.

STORY. Quick heads up to film-goers. Under The Skin relies more on implication than it does on explication – this is a highly visual style of storytelling that is aware of its relationship with the audience. The movie begins with our voluptuous alien protagonist (Johansson) as she takes over her predecessor’s duties in modern day Scotland, luring and eventually entrapping willing lads in a fate arguably worse than death. Her methods and her actions are relayed in sequences surprisingly aloof, rational. The etherealness of an alien life manifesting as something cold and hard. There is something definitively foreign  here, which is what really hooks us. But the cognitive dissonance of our human values and the alien’s focused objectivity isn’t a simple one. It germinates into a larger plot arc, one that features a merging of worlds that is all at once fascinating, disorienting and perhaps even destructive. Haunting.

If you like plenty of dialogue and a rapidly progressing story, Under The Skin might test your patience; this here is not mainstream science fiction. It revels in an exquisite, unspoken medley of unsettling sensations and food for thought. 

CHARACTERS. There is little I can say that will do justice to Johansson without you actually watching the movie – she is mesmerising as a predatory visitor, both aware and unaware of the charms of human form. Nothing is easier than sitting back and letting this performance persuade us into considering the validity of her alien identity. The appearance of other characters is sparse and interaction is minimum yet still significant. That is to say: while Under The Skin certainly possesses a strange premise, its cast brings a remarkable sense of authenticity to a subject that has otherwise been portrayed as hokey or artificial. You will be amused to know that many of the Scottish lads were actually unaware of themselves being filmed (wavers were signed later- Sight & Sound magazine has a brill interview about this). So there. A nice little fact to take with you into the cinema. 

CONCLUSION. An eerie, unusual film that might not be for everyone. Under The Skin is a powerful piece of work nonetheless – watch it for posterity if not for the goosebumps.


STORY: 7/10

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