Movie Review: Under the Skin

Grade: B

Movie Review: Under the Skin

It’s been 10 years since anyone has last seen a Jonathan Glazer film. Glazer’s last film was the far more conventional “Birth” where Nicole Kidman (“Eyes Wide Shut”) becomes convinced that her dead husband has come back to life.

It took Glazer nine years to develop “Under the Skin,” running it through three different screenwriters before arriving at first timer Walter Campbell to adapt the novel it’s based on by Michel Faber.

The film takes a stark shift away from Faber’s original hyper satirical plot meant to debase mass produced animal farms. “Under the Skin” becomes so detached from its source material that the novel’s original plot is really merely a suggestion.

Scarlett Johansson (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) plays an unnamed alien, although in Faber’s novel she’s called Isserley, and is reasonably silent as she wanders across the countryside looking for men with Scottish brogues to bring back to her lair. Eventually, these victims become encased in an inky black pool until they’re ready to be shipped off to her home planet for consumption.

“Under the Skin” presents a furious amount of striking images; working on two distinctly differing levels between the obliquely terrifying world that the men are abducted into and the pedestrian everyday world that most have become accustomed.

Glazer absolutely obliterated any sort of context that comes with a novel adaptation, pairing down “Under the Skin” to the most threadbare elements. With such a departure, Glazer chooses to have Johansson cruise around in a white van and speaking to strangers while filming all of this through hidden cameras.

Taking Johansson’s hypersexuallity, making it drab and then placing Johansson in the most abnormal conditions possible to believe is a bold decision. Spike Jonze used Johansson in a similar fashion in “Her,” but Glazer placed Johansson in bleaker circumstances. Dressed in a limp black wig, gaudy clothing and rose red lipstick, she eventually begins to stray from her original objective. Glazer’s film attempts to track an alien discovering the limits of its own body.

Quite simply, Glazer’s film becomes a tone poem. Its score by British composer Mica Levi grinds away with otherworldly string work and remains ever so untethered from reality.

“Under the Skin” is a strange film. But while the delivering visually appealing, icy images with slight storytelling that implies just enough to tempt an audience in, Glazer’s film eventually tries to tell a human tale, making skin crawl amidst its desolate edges.

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