Under The Skin

Year: 2013
Production Co: Film4
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writer: Jonathan Glazer/Walter Campbell
Cast: Scarlett Johansson

It's a mood more than a story and an art film rather than a narrative, which makes it pretty unfair to malign Ryan Gosling's Lost River so much and love this film to the same degree. It makes as much sense on the surface (ie little), the imagery is just as strong and the performances are just as appropriately low key.

In fact now I sit down to write this review it makes me realise how little of it I actually remember (except for Scarlett Johansson naked and inspecting herself in a mirror for no apparent reason).

It's not made in any way obvious in the movie, but Johansson is an alien who's arrived on Earth and whose sole purpose is to kill men – whether it's for food, fuel to get home or something else entirely s never explained.

As the film opens she's crouched over a prone woman in a completely white environment, proceeding to undress the woman, get dressed in her clothes, and drive off in her van.

She then drives around Glasgow to ask random guys on the street (apparently some of which didn't know they were in a movie) for directions somewhere, getting them talking, offering them a lift, and then coming on to them.

Her method of murder is as murky (literally and figuratively) as the rest of the film. She doesn't peel off a mask and suck them dry with twitching mandibles or slice them limb from limb with some futuristic weapon. She backs slowly across a completely black chamber where she and her victims are the only things we can see, undressing seductively to entice them to follow as she walks.

Though she stays on solid ground, her victim starts to sink further into some opaque liquid with every advancing step. Each sequence is made even more dream-like thanks to every man heedlessly walking towards his goal rather than stopping and running away screaming, as if he has no idea he's wading into liquid that's about to engulf and suffocate him.

She's also followed around by a guy on a motorcycle, and the only clues you have about who he is seem to make him some kind of guardian/enforcer charged with cleaning up her mess (ie killing the odd victims who escapes her clutches).

It's probably all got to do with identity and who the real alien is in our worldview – cinesnobs you know will probably have alliterations and theories up the wazoo. If you're expecting any clarity in the story, forget it. Some of the images are stark and inventive and full props to Johansson for agreeing to something so far in tone and aesthetic from The Avengers (more than most of her costars have done), but it's not really very satisfying.

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