Monday, 1 September 2014

Sci-Fi September: Under The Skin (2013)

Like many movies, Under The Skin is based on a book (this one by William Faber) that I haven't read. Unlike many movies, it's an uncomfortable, horrifying experience that also comes damn close to being a masterpiece.

Director Jonathan Glazer, who also adapted the book to screen with the help of Walter Campbell, excels at this kind of thing, although this may remain his finest hour for some time to come. Sexy Beast had moments to make you wriggle in your seat, and Birth was also difficult to watch at times, but neither of those will prepare you for the experience of this sci-fi horror.

Scarlett Johansson stars as a woman who drives around Glasgow and picks up various men. Once she gets them back to her place, alone and expecting a good time, she closes the trap that she has in place. Yet, as this cycle continues, she starts to find herself conflicted, especially when meeting someone (Adam Pearson) who seems sweeter than most.

Under The Skin is stunning. There's no other word I want to use to describe it. Some sections are a bit repetitive, which is why it falls just short of perfection, but the movie is haunting, thoughtful, and uniquely beautiful in a way that lets it stand out from almost any other sci-fi movie that I can think of from the past few decades.

All of the performances are solid, with a number of the males on camera actually being people unwittingly entering the world of the film (secret cameras were used at some points, and everything was explained and cleared after scenes had been filmed), but Johansson deserves a hell of a lot of praise for a performance that always shows her to be slightly out of alignment with the world around her. Just watch her charming men one minute, all smiles and attentiveness, and then letting her face return to a prone state when her interest wanes. She's never less than mesmerising, and this film sits atop of a filmography that currently posits her as the most interesting American actress of recent years. Hell, this even made me forgive her for Lucy (a film I disliked, although she was the best thing about it).

The performances are essential to the film, no doubt about that, but it would be remiss not to heap an equal amount of praise upon Glazer, who seems to have created an atmosphere of trust and intimacy offscreen that allows the onscreen events to play out in such an effective, and affecting, way. The script may have minimal dialogue, and often poses more questions than answers, but it makes enough available to the viewer to allow anyone to keep up. Sort of.

The visuals are another major bonus. The film starts off with some small, impressive moments before moving from one memorable set-piece to the next. This is the stuff of sci-fi nightmares, with disturbing imagery appearing in almost every main sequence.

Slow, ambiguous, terrifying, this is a film that most will either love or hate. I absolutely loved it. I hope that, however you end up feeling about it, you at least give it some of your time. It may just get under your skin, appropriately enough, as it did with me.


Got enough movie reviews to read? Of course you have. Everyone's a critic, and that's never been more correct than in this interwebby-tastic age. But a few pounds/dollars spent on my book allows me to keep my movie schedule packed, and subsequently throw at least one main review down on this here blog.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

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