With a film that spent nearly a decade in production limbo, director Jonathan Glazer – whose previous achievements include Sexy Beast – has laboured over his most ambitious project to date in what has divided critics and cinema goers alike, without a shred of ambivalence to weigh up a film that has thus far polarised public opinion.
Under the Skin is a bold attempt at combining existential science fiction themes with abstract narrative and art house components which ultimately create a focused yet somewhat bizarre pastiche that plays out like a contrived attempt at creating the ultimate college movie project.
While there are nods to Stanley Kubrick in the opening sequence, which is ambiguous in its attempt to convey the introduction of Scarlett Johansson’s alien character through some kind of impressionistic birth/genesis sequence, this is juxtaposed against a brilliant soundtrack of abrasive yet atonal and eerie string arrangements which are both visceral and unnerving throughout.
The movie follows Johansson as she trawls the streets of Glasgow in a white van looking for unwitting pedestrians who she can seductively entice back to her own alien larder, which plays out in a very surreal yet visually engaging manner – with a tip of the fedora to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
While much of the setting and local parlance is all too familiar to allow the suspension of disbelief, it can be noted that it does open the movie up to some unintentional absurdist humour that takes the edge off the David Lynch-esque psychological thriller vibe and realigns it with Ken Loach kitchen sink melodrama.
Deliberate or not, it does however confirm Johansson’s status as an out of touch and somewhat disillusioned alien species i.e. a Hollywood actor perusing the boozy hen party infested end of a vomit paved Sauchiehall Street on a heady Saturday night.
While it strangely does work on some levels, owing a lot to the visual effects and soundtrack, the film does however seem to lack any engaging sense of direction; perhaps due to any real sense of narrative or, to be more specific, plot.
This is ultimately where Under the Skin falls down, however it is worth noting that while there are sporadic flourishes of dialogue throughout, it is Johansson’s internal dialogue which captivates here as she tries to come to terms with her adopted surroundings while at the same time adapting to humanistic tendencies in order to blend into the social landscape.
A bold expressionistic piece of work that will no doubt be lost on some people, yet for all intents and purposes serves as a tangible yet abstract study into existential consciousness.
IMDb: Under The Skin (2013)
An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.