Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Graphic Nudity, Sexual Content, some Violence and Language
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Written by: Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer
(based on the novel UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
This will be one of my shorter reviews. The reason for that is because UNDER THE SKIN is more of an experience than an actual story. As clichéd as it is to use this line, this really is a movie that you need to see in order to believe. On paper, the film sounds like an arthouse take on SPECIES. However, it’s actually a loose adaptation of Michel Faber’s acclaimed science fiction novel of the same name. Plot takes a back seat to visuals and style, but it doesn’t hurt that the main outline is an interesting one.
An alien is visiting Earth (to be specific, Scotland) with a gruesome task. In the disguise of a human female, she’s luring hitchhikers and loners to a nasty fate. This is her sole purpose and she feels no remorse for her actions at all. The more time she spends in her human skin, the more she begins to sympathize for our species (especially after one special hitchhiker). Eventually, she feels compassion and tries to be human herself….with disastrous results. We aren’t given character names or the purpose of this alien’s mission (though the novel does explain all of these and would make a fantastic movie if adapted into a traditional feature). Instead, we’re taken along the wild journey as this unnamed otherworldly creature tries to be human.
UNDER THE SKIN was constructed in a variety of ways. The most interesting of which involved hidden cameras and people signing wavers to be in the film, ala a more sinister version of a Sacha Baron Cohen joke. The visual quality doesn’t look shoddy as you imagine it might for the hidden camera moments (which are hard to pick out through most of the movie). Scenes where production values were clearly a factor look absolutely beautiful. The only real dialogue given are between the alien (a fearless performance by Scarlett Johansson) and random hitchhikers/victims. A word of warning though, you might want to crank on the subtitles for those remarkably thick Scottish accents. The whirring visual world of dark hues, colorful lenses, haunting scenes and unforgettable music make for a gleefully disorienting experience that should please a certain group of diehard cinephiles (there are bound to be those who deem it purely as pretentious crap).
UNDER THE SKIN definitely isn’t for everyone and absolutely falls under the label of “arthouse.” I loved this movie and found it to be a wholly original, unnerving piece of cinema. It’s unlike any film that I’ve encountered before and (most likely) any that I will encounter again. This is weird, strange, and diabolical piece of genius that I really can’t fully put into words. It’s just a film you need to see in order to form your own opinion of it. That may not be the greatest closing line of a review, but maybe this one is. UNDER THE SKIN is a dark work of art!