Abduction Has Never Been so Appealing – Under the Skin (2013)

Hypnotizing.  This is about an alien entity that comes to Earth.  It steals the skin of a human (Scarlett Johansson) and proceeds to take males out of commission in Scotland, one by one.  This is a bonafide art film through and through.  The only thing I knew about it going in is that it got weird, but I didn’t know to what extent.  Given the start of this, I was worried that this might play a touch on the incoherent side; the first line of dialogue isn’t until the 14 minute mark, and it utilizes unconventional tactics in storytelling, like have our protagonist stand over her helpless self, strip her other body’s clothes off and steal her own identity.

skinIt’s difficult to efficiently describe without the aid of a screenshot.

This is a unique and wholly memorable film, and it’s unlike anything you have ever seen before.  It is really well shot, and it utilizes experimental photography to force your perspective into looking at things in a way that you’ve never looked at them before.  For example, one of the first shots of this movie, you think you’re at a coffee mug, but then the focus shifts to reveal that you were actually looking at an extreme close up of a pupil.  Given that this is the story of an extraterrestrial, this does a great job of putting you in the shoes of the alien, getting you to look at the world the same way that a foreign predator would size people up.  And when you watch her do her thing and seduce her prey like a Siren, it is nothing short of exquisite; you want her to find more victims because they make her process so alluring.  When she is going in for the kill, it is utterly entrancing.  Also, underscoring all of this is what I consider to be the second best score of the year (Whiplash Whiplash Whiplash); the sound keeps you uneasy, and it is constant throughout.  Much like every single male character in this movie, you’re locked in for the ride, as this movie is going to do whatever it is that it wants to do.

undertheskinLike have a scene with this, which becomes even more attention getting when when you realize you’re looking at human skin…

Johansson may be featured here, but director Jonathan Glazer is the star.  He knows how to tantalize and how to make a very sexy product, but he manages to do so without ever breaching the realm of exploitation.  He ended up created the first art film I’ve clicked with in a long time.  He also gets a great performance from Johnansson, who gets to showcase her acting abilities (amongst other things); it’s not easy playing a blank character, and you really buy that she is from out of this world.  It also doesn’t hurt that Glazer knows how to effectively shoot her, and she has never been more provocative than she is here; if you know the kind of following she has, you know that that is saying something.  Being that it is so different, I would say that you do have to be open minded to give this a shot, and you can’t be a stickler for traditional story structure; really, my only complaint here is that the last 30 minutes makes it apparent how loose the structure of this story is, but I suppose that is more of a critique of the writing than it is the filmmaking (this is based on a surrealist novel).  This is haunting, unsettling and holds your attention tightly.  If this is something being told on a metaphoric level, I don’t know what it’s trying to say, but as an original science fiction piece, this is excellent.  I just want to rewatch it and share it with friends.

Under the Skin (2013) ****

– Critic for Hire

Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2014?  See for yourself here.

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