Monday, 14 July 2014
Under the Skin (2013)
Ten years since his sophomore feature Birth (2004) was released to a lacklustre reception, director Jonathan Glazer, who showed great promise with Sexy Beast (2000), is back with an altogether delicious monster of a movie. Scarlett Johansson plays against all conceivable type as a nameless creature who travels around Glasgow in a white van, scoping out men with her predatory and objective gaze and, after picking them up, she takes them back to a run down property and has her wicked way with them. As simple as the premise may sound, Under the Skin (2013) an adaptation of the marvellous novel by Michel Faber, is anything but simple as the narrative is simply non existent thanks to the director’s unique and experimental vision.
Initially the audience is cast under the glare of a blazing spotlight and what follows continues to be an utterly hypnotic amalgam of breathtaking sound and vision. The extraordinary score by Mica Levis enters the ear canal with the voracity of a swarm of curious insects. A hint of Johansson’s husky tones hits the ear canal as the spotlights morph before your eyes into a giant retina. A transformative role for lead actress, Johansson who, as alluring as her protagonist may be, operates stoically, emanating the curiosity of an unfeeling vessel, not too dissimilar from David Bowie’s performance in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). Her performance is captivating. Her femininity provides some warmth, in the wake of the deadly chill she so dastardly creates. The film as a whole is one beautifully paced mystery, from start to finish the questions of intention and motive are removed from the picture, leaving viewers to create their own interpretation of what the hell is going on even if they’ve read the book. If you like a film to answer its own questions, look away, this is not for you. There is no resolution here.
Filmed from the perspective of the mysterious protagonist, Glazer captures the true essence of an unsuspecting public through use of hidden cameras, thankfully Johansson remained largely unrecognisable in both her British accent and her dark fright wig so the reactions from the public were real and perfectly unfiltered. Extras were not cast, they were just regular people who had no idea that they were being filmed. The juxtaposition of an alien look at human life and the raw reality of an unsuspecting public creates a bizarre sci-fi sub-level from which you are asked to watch the film. In creating this unique perspective the audience become somewhat disassociated from their own race, forcibly joining the lead in her alien observations.
Under the Skin will no doubt divide audience opinion but nobody can deny the true originality on offer here. Glazer’s mash up of the hyper-real and oblique extra terrestrial creates an altogether unique and bewitchingly stylistic sci-fi experience. Whilst the initial introduction recalls Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), yet with a gentle bat of an eyelid, there is a significant shift towards the unfamiliar and darkly uncomfortable. Like a beautiful nightmare from which you cannot wake, Glazer’s vision is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, but once you have seen it, it will follow you around forever.