Movie Review: UNDER THE SKIN – arty, fascinating sci-fi that shows Scarlett Johansson can still bring her A game.

Under the Skin

Watched Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin over a couple of days due to the odd times of the day I was viewing. There’s plenty of people who have written off Scarlett Johansson as an actor thanks to her big movies (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and celeb status, but she’s been great before (Ghost World, Lost In Translation) and she’s great here too. One of the things I like about the movies is that occasionally a megastar will surprise you by doing something unexpected and killing it. I think of Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder, and Travolta in Pulp Fiction. “ScarJo” didn’t have to do this movie, this tiny, weird movie that has no real beginning and no real end, was likely paid minimum, and got to see lots of ugly Scottish guys naked, but she did, and I loved that.

The movie reminds me of the kind of things you’d see late at night in the early days of Channel 4; strange, arty, possessing no true “narrative flow”, yet somehow fascinating all the same. Well, to me anyway. I’ve always been a real appreciator of non-mainstream movies – I loved much of Godard’s output of the 60s and 70s – and I am a massive fan of David Lynch. This movie drew me in from the get go, and while it ultimately isn’t a great movie, it’s an attention-keeper.

It serves as an interesting companion piece to Roeg’s sprawling, glitzy The Man Who Fell To Earth (another favourite of mine), but eschews the notion to put its star in a glamourous light.  Here, Johansson plays a non-human being (probably an alien life form, but the movie doesn’t go into much of an explanation either of her or her actions) roaming Scotland and appearing to drain the life form of men that she picks up.  If it sounds too much like 90s dud Species, fear not.  Female predatory alien is the only similarity here.

Now that I’ve seen it, I’ll confess that even though I know what happens in the movie (it does follow a linear path, though maybe it shouldn’t have, I dunno), I’m not really sure what the movie is about. Though I don’t think it’s a bring-your-own-interpretation to the movie. It feels just like a WYSISYG kind of experience. You can make up your own origin and reasoning, I guess, but why bother? Just settle down and watch it unfold.  The movie is mesmerizing in places, puzzling, and swelling with pathos in palces too.

Glazer’s an odd choice of director for this kind of movie. I’ve enjoyed his output over the years, but this is very different for him; it’s like a cold Scandinavian piece the way it presents Johansson’s character in the final reel – a tragic, and brutal way to end the movie. Odd, but I liked it.


© Andrew Hope 2015

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