Director – Jonathan Glazer
Cast – Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Adam Pearson, Jessica Mance, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Krystof Hádek, Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Earlier this year I learned that there would be a horror film starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress who lures men to their doom. If you ask me, that sounds like a kickass grindhouse film – I was dead wrong. The more I learned about the film the more it came off as an art house masterpiece with hints of influence from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Regardless, with so many cool elements involved I had to give this a watch, and was pleased at the outcome. Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. It’s a horror, thriller, drama, and fantasy effort that makes for one of the most unique horror films this millennium.
The storyline is as simple as the first sentence of this review. Scarlett stars as an unnamed woman who removes the clothes from an unconscious woman and then embarks on an unmentioned mission to seduce random men. That is, of course, after the film’s immense opening sequence. I really cannot tell you what happens at the beginning of the film, but it is this sequence that makes me mention 2001: A Space Odyssey when I speak of this flick. The first word is not spoken until 13 minutes into the film, and I was very surprised to learn that much of the dialogue was unscripted. To get a realistic feel, most of the men that the woman meets are non-actors who had their conversations with the woman recorded and were then offered roles in the film. This is a bold move by writer/director Jonathan Glazer that worked out in his favor in the end. So, instead of an actual screenplay the film is written more as a blueprint, with the non-actors giving “true” performances as they were unaware that they were speaking to Scarlett Johansson, who was wearing a wig and makeup.
A very long first act gives us approximately an hour of the woman seeking men, both successfully and unsuccessfully, and disposing of them. The first kill appears at the 21-minute mark, and it will leave you bewildered as to what exactly happened. Do not worry though, the next kill, at 35 minutes, explains what happens to her unsuspecting victims…and it is truly haunting. For this being such an artsy film I was quite surprised at how effective the horror was. I can’t say that this will give me nightmares, but I was definitely left in shock over what I saw. The second act slows things down as she travels a bit and begins to find herself. At times it feels like she is curious to know what life is like as a human, but she is on a mission and we are made aware that those who sent her to Earth are covertly watching her. The third act gives us the woman’s first true conflict, which is short-lived and leads to a climax you will either love or hate.
Jonathan Glazer’s direction is what sells the film, and it was unexpected given his previous efforts, which are Birth and Massive Attack videos. His provides a visceral experience with long, drawn-out sequences that play on your senses with amazing visuals and a haunting score. Scarlett is great, and the execution of her character, from looks to mannerisms, surpasses her acting. This is not because her acting is poor, but because the performance is so basic. Glazer’s direction of the kills was quite out of this world, with the uneventful ones still captivating me thanks once again to the visuals. I mentioned earlier that there is at least one haunting scene, and its effectiveness is incredible. Glazer draws these scenes out to achieve the highest amount of tension possible, leaving you to squirm in your seat, eyes glued to the screen, and in complete submission to the film. I cannot say that happens often, and I give him props for that.
Overall, Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. If you are looking for a film to entertain a group of friends with then this is probably not for such an occasion. However, if an incredibly unique effort is what you seek, you have found it here.