Title: Under the Skin
Play time: 1h 48min
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scott Dymond, Paul Brannigan, Scarlett Johansson
The Beautiful Alien Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin tells the story of a shape-shifting alien who sets out across Scotland, in the form of Scarlett Johansson, to seduce and abduct hapless humans. It’s what we used to call a “visionary achievement” — mesmerizing nightmare fuel in the vein of vintage Cronenberg, with the same sleek, disorienting gloss that Glazer put on his extraordinary Birth. You won’t see anything remotely like it this decade, or maybe ever. Glazer is one of our most formidable young talents.
Utterly Terrifying Scenes
The film offers not a word of exposition. It opens with a series of striking images: abstract shots of of black goo filling some sort of vessel; a man racing down a mountain road on a motorbike; a woman stripping a corpse of its clothes on a bright-white stage. When the alien sets off on her mission, we are at first left to deduce its contours from muffled conversations half-heard over the din of Glazer’s stunning soundscape, accented by an overpowering experimental score by Mica Levi. Then, a series of utterly terrifying scenes that will become cult legend show us — without a single line of dialogue — what she is really after.
Halfway through the film, in a sequence that I will never, ever forget (a momentary insert shot of someone pinching himself is somehow the most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen on screen since The Deep Blue Sea), the alien finds herself with a human moral intuition. The tone briefly changes from nightmarish to elegiac, before shifting again in an ending that hit me like a punch in the gut. The alien ultimately discovers the full scope of what humanity is capable of: astonishing beauty and astonishing ugliness.
Under the Skin (2013) – Bad & Brilliant Alike
Under the Skin made me think of what Roger Ebert wrote about Dark City fifteen years ago. So many movies — bad and brilliant alike — consist of people talking to each other about prosaic matters of normal human experience. Here is a film that wants to show us something bold and new and amazing. It exists in another world, but reveals much about our own.