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Review: Under the Skin – Alien avant-garde

Posted by on April 18, 2014 – 7:45 am

Under the SkinWould you die to see Scarlett Johansson “bare it all”? Apparently most men in Scotland say, “Yes”, to that prospect; at least according to the new alien avant-garde film, Under the Skin. But jesting aside, this artistically told Sci-Fi story is a nightmarish and hypnotic exploration of what it means to be human, and Scarlett sans clothing is just cinematic gravy.

It’s been well-publicized that Johansson’s character is of extra-terrestrial origin (apologies if I just ruined it for you), so if I had one complaint about this movie it would be that I would have preferred that the alien revelation unfolded within the film itself and not in the months of press leading up to its release. It’s probably best that you know as little about this film as possible before seeing it, and I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

The simple plot for Under the Skin is that a sexy humanoid alien lures men off the street for nefarious purposes, until something happens that makes the creature start to sympathize with her victims and try to better understand their plight.

Under the SkinAll of the characters are nameless in this movie and it’s been reported that many of the males in the cast were actually unknowing men on the street recorded with a hidden camera as they were approached by an in-character Johansson.

There is barely any dialogue in the film, and unless you are adept at picking up on a heavy Scottish accent you’ll probably not understand the few words that are spoken; but that’s okay as the movie plays kind of like an extended music video with a mesmerizing score by composer Mica Levi. In other words, the dialogue is completely unnecessary to enjoy the film.

The Cinematography by Daniel Landin is also beautifully spellbinding, from Scottish forests and coastlines to hauntingly alien whatchamarooms, Scarlett Johansson isn’t the only eye-candy in this excellent film. Mr. Landin and director Jonathan Glazer have created a unique masterpiece that is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Invasion of the Body Snatchers and all classic and classy science-fiction.

Under the SkinAs the only primary character, Johansson completely carries the acting load on her shoulders and is amazing in this part, which often requires her to complete extraordinarily long takes where she conveys both blank other-worldly indifference and deeply buried emotions at the same time. Not to mention her bold nude scenes in this film that required a great deal of courage and artistic commitment. There is so much more to this actress than the badass Black Widow from the Marvel action films.

Under the Skin will not be for everyone, there are unanswered questions and enigmatic characters, in addition to lengthy sedentary scenes that will require introspection on your part; but like the other recent Sci-Fi film, Enemy, the ambiguity is half the fun of it. This is one of the most remarkable films so far this year. Grade: 8/10

“Under the Skin” opens exclusively on Friday, April 18, at Harkins Camelview.

Photos © 2014 StudioCanal