Honestly…I’m not sure what I watched.
Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johannson as a mysterious female alien who seduces young men on the streets of Glasgow, Scotland. The events that transpire lead to a shocking revelation on what her victims are used for.
I find it hard to sum up my feelings for Under the Skin. This is not your everyday watch type of film. It’s a different kind of movie. It’s probably the most visually striking film I’ve seen in a long time, filled with strange, haunting and disturbing images. Aided by a soundtrack that is uncomfortable, excuse the pun, but it really does get under your skin.
You’re not quite sure what to make of Under the Skin but you know you’ve seen something. Imagine watching a film with a dream filter glossed over it in its entirety. Some parts feature the real world (filmed using hidden cameras) but majority is filled with abstract surrealism that takes the strongest willpower and patience to persist and to keep watching until the very end. It’s unlike anything you’ve seen. I’m happy to have watched and experienced it, not quite sure whether it’s worthy of a recommendation.
The last time I felt this way was when I saw Only God Forgives, a film with great visuals but lacked a plot or understanding. Under the Skin is in that same vein but somehow doesn’t quite make that same mistake. Its storytelling is more of a visual metaphor with very little or no dialogue. Whether that’s your type of film I leave purely in your hands. There are moments where you have to do some guesswork to interpret what was really happening. Who were the guys on the motorcycles? Alien bouncers making sure our mysterious alien was doing her job?
If I could attempt to sum up the film then it’s about awakening and examining what it is to be a human being. The beginning starts off like a weird screensaver that appears on your PC when it goes into sleep mode. It later forms an eye. Fast forward to an unrecognisable Scarlett Johannson with jet black hair, minimal make-up and a fur coat, prowling the streets of Glasgow in a white van looking for young men. Now in this country we have our annoyances with white van drivers but seeing this alien pick up unsuspecting men for her own personal flesh eating needs – yep you can add that to the list as well.
The conversation between the alien and the victim always starts off as innocent. At first she’s asking for directions and offering them a lift somewhere. Then it becomes small talk – do you think I’m pretty? What does your tattoo mean? Do you live alone? Because it’s repeated a few times it does become her rehearsed chat up line to attract the opposite sex. Then it dawns on you as her motives suddenly becomes sinister. She operates like a black widow spider and with the uncomfortable music which is hard to describe, you never feel at ease at what unfolds. It’s a false sense of security. She invites them back to her place, promising sexual intercourse but in fact leads them to their death. Like a moth to a flame attracted by her beauty, the victims fall into a dark liquid abyss where they’re slowly decomposed and stripped apart of all their bodily nutrients and die, leaving only their skins. Under the Skin does not hold back on that reveal. No words are spoken but it’s visually disturbing. The reasoning – the men serve a purpose, to replenish the alien so she can go on living and she does this without remorse or care, completely devoid of any emotion. It’s not like she’s picking up men who are wasters, scumbags or abusers, people who the world won’t miss. Her selections are random, basically anyone up for an opportunistic adventure. It’s like watching a cruel version of the circle of life.
It’s only when the alien encounters a deformed man that she suddenly grows a conscience and goes on a path of self-discovery, observing society with a greater awareness.
For all it’s oddity and weirdness that my head struggles to comprehend, Scarlett Johansson is good. She doesn’t do a lot but manages to give a quiet yet raw performance. Her facial expressions were enough to carry a scene and say it all. Once she started to sympathise with her human connections and reject her predatory instincts, the more recognisable she became.
Under the Skin is how I would say “it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.” I guarantee you, it will divide opinion and even as I post this review, I still don’t know what to make of it. Don’t ask me for a rating – I just feel indifferent and weirded out.
However to give this film some credit, Under the Skin is an experimental art film that gets people talking about it.