Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Dougie McConnell
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer (“Birth”)
Written by: Walter Campbell (debut)
As a viewer, watching director Jonathan Glazer’s trippy, metaphysical sci-fi mindbender about an alien disguised as a beautiful woman who lures men into her dark lair feels like an out-of-body experience. Like last year’s equally bizarre “Upstream Color” or 2012’s “Holy Motors,” you won’t always know what is exactly happening on screen, but you’ll find it impossible to look away.
Granted, the latter can only be said of moviegoers who find the challenge of dissecting films with indistinct narratives interesting. For those coming into “Under the Skin” simply for the fact that the film features Scarlett Johansson in the first nude scenes of her career, the promise of a more complex and unique cinematic experience that can be studied and analyzed probably won’t take precedent over the promise of flesh. That might be, however, the perfect analogy to use when describing Glazer’s intention as a storyteller. For those who don’t quickly dismiss Glazer’s vision for mere poppycock, there’s a lot to be said about a woman’s sexual nature and the power she has over the opposite sex.
Again, this is only one of what could be countless of theories behind precisely what Glazer is going for with “Under the Skin.” In the film, Johansson, playing a nameless alien character, inhabits the skin of a human woman and journeys through Scotland in a van where she uses her charm and mischievous grin to pick up men and ultimately lead them to their demise. How this exactly happens is, like much of Glazer and first-time screenwriter Walter Campbell’s intent, left up to the imagination. We do, however, watch the men step out of their clothes and into an endless pool of black goo where they become almost mummified before they burst into waves of silky, formless satin.
Johansson is almost spider-like with the way she attracts her prey. There’s definitely something not quite right about her character, but one can only wonder if this even makes a difference to the men she seduces during her ambiguous quest for whatever she’s trying to prove or gain. When her daily fixation with Scottish men doesn’t go as planned after she gives a ride to a gentleman with a hideous facial deformity, “Under the Skin” goes from intriguingly weird to downright loopy. By then, however, Glazer has already won. It might take a few hours to realize it, but the hook he uses to reel you in – not to mention the fantastic imagery and creepily beautiful score by cellist Mica Levi – is undeniable.
“Under the Skin” is slowly paced and, at times, frustrating, but if you’re the kind of cinephile who enjoys chipping away at a film’s deeper meaning, this one is definitely a conversation piece – even if you end up having these conversations with yourself.