Under the Skin is the long-awaited latest visual treat from director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth). Dark, and at times disturbing, the film sees Scarlett Johansson as an alien who arrives on earth to prey on vulnerable males on the streets of Scotland. The story is left deliberately vague, Johansson’s femme fatale character, Laura, is part of a group of unnamed, unknown aliens who take human form in order to – well it’s not exactly clear what they want to do but it doesn’t look healthy.
Laura sets about seducing people at the fringes of society, young people without families, loners, easy targets who won’t be missed. They are disposed of stylistically, wilfully submerged in some otherworldly black stasis that’s never explained. Glazer and cinematographer Daniel Landin have created a wonderfully intoxicating, oil-slick, psychedelic world for Johansson to explore. And it is intriguing to watch for a while, especially to a remarkably well-suited soundtrack. But once it becomes clear, around 45 minutes in, that the narrative may also be from outer-space, cleverly attempting to wear the skin of a traditional story then it all begins to crumble. The intended mystery quickly becomes tedious, and at times it seemed Over the Head might have been a better title.
There seem to be fleeting glimpses of grander themes on display, and if you really wanted to you could read the film as a form of the classic thought experiment about how our society looks to the outsider, or it could also say something about gender roles in in Western culture, or the predatory nature of life, but you would be putting in a lot of work to do so. Under the Skin falls into that baffling trend of films that are being eruditely made from a technical perspective, but practically devoid of story and substance.
Published in Gazette Group titles (Dublin City Gazette, Swords Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 27th Feb 2014.