Synopsis: A mysterious woman seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.
Under The Skin is one of those scripts that has been banging about for a number of years with a surprising line of A-list names attached to it, particularly when you consider it is one of the most inaccesible films to come out during the last 12 months. In the end it took British director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) and a bona-fide Hollywood A-lister in Scarlett Johansson to fund a film about an alien posing as a woman who trawls the streets of Glasgow looking for men to lure back to her delapedated house where they find themselves in a very strange situation indeed. Shadowed by a weird minder figure who makes sure she stays on mission, it’s all going so well until she begins to become curious about the complexities of people and develops empathy.
As his previous offerings reflect, Glazer is a director who enjoys mixing up his visual styles and tones. One of the things that set Sexy Beast apart from so many other foul-mouthed UK gangster films in the early 00’s was the injection of surrealism. In Under the Skin, Glazer uses the freedom of a small budget to explore an array of techniques, not least hidden cameras to film Johansson trawling round Glasgow asking various men for directions in her very plumy English accent, hoping they might get in her van and join her back at her place for some nookie and a bit of intergalactic organ harvesting. It’s an impressive feat, less from a technical aspect, and more because Johansson is so bloody famous you can only imagine the various men she spoke to probably wouldn’t think a Hollywood sexbomb would be driving around their local council estate in a cheap fake fur coat and battered Transit van.
Tonally it has the feel of an independent 1960s/70’s sci-fi schlocker where there could be long periods of non-verbal communication and “not a lot happening” in favour of a more subtle approach to showing a creature with no sense of empathy discovering humanity, love, lust and loss over a relatively short space of time. At times though Glazer’s careful treading of the line between interesting experimental cinema and self involved naval gazing twoddle gets blurred and it suffers from a lack of direction in the middle. It is all redeemed though with a strong final 20 minutes including a disturbing closing few minutes which will take some time to wash away.
Conclusion: A brave step for Scarlett Johansson who is maturing into an interesting and compelling actress rather than the tabloid fodder so many of her contemporaries have become over the years.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson