MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Under The Skin. One of my most anticipated movies this year, a huge fan of the soundtrack from Mica Levi (Micachu), Kubrick-ish and with an amazing trailer. This movie was ready to blow my mind and I was ready to decipher the whole thing and make an analyzed review. I saw it last summer and now after many rewatches, it’s time to tell what I thought of the movie.
It’s a very strange movie, but a very good one. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who takes the shape of a female hitchhiker and drives through Scotland and seduces various men to harvest their skin. The trailer was dark and seemed full of suspense. The critics had made bold comparisons with Stanley Kubrick, which in itself is a massive compliment. My opinion…. it doesn’t even come near it.
In what is turning out to be a strong year for movies, Under The Skin is another interesting independent movie, but it is definitely not for everyone. A science fiction film with almost no science fiction and almost no horror, this will require viewers to be patient and even then their patience may not be rewarded. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though. Scarlett Johansson, although she doesn’t have that much to do, gives a strong performance and is hypnotic throughout. The endlessly haunting imagery, almost all the shots from the beautifully composed landscape shots to the surreal abyss sequences are powerful and fascinating. The story does have a message, but gets lost within the excessive imagery.
It’s about an Alien who comes to earth to study human beings in some capacity. We do not sympathize with the alien at first, because it is cold, calculating, and predatory. It approaches us as a human would an ant – which is very clearly demonstrated early in the film’s imagery. This alien stalks the streets of Scotland in search of “Victims”, luring them with sexuality into a den devoid of light. The victims sink into a black pool, only to be stripped of their insides and leaving only the skin behind. At first, the male victims are a bit scummy; you’re run of the mill sleaze bag who just can’t wait to shove himself into the first woman he comes across. While we may not sympathize with them, we still identify the alien as evil. So what are we left with? Is everything in this film antagonistic? A confusing and disturbing scene on a beach forces us to take a further step back from the situation, and upon realizing how truly dire and horrible the situation really is, the average person would simply emotionally disconnect entirely from the experience at that point.
However, that’s the beginning of the film. My genuine feeling is that these men are not so much the victims of murder or cruelty, but unwilling participants of a strange type of assimilation. The alien was learning about humanity by absorbing them. Later in the film, when encountering a new type of victim, something changes. Suddenly, the cold face of the alien becomes strangely human. She starts to feel emotions. It is no longer a dead, unblinking stare, but one of worry, sadness, and vulnerability.
Eventually at the third act they reveal the true message of the movie. The movie tries to tell us how we as humans perceive beauty. We often attack it as physical thing that most of the time we forget the person… “Under the Skin”. When we truly discover a person, most of the time it turns us off and deny to be any near that person for any other matter. As example; the logger at the end of the movie. He notices that she is beautiful and decides to rape her, but when he finally sees her for what she truly is, he decides to burn her alive.
It’s a beautiful message indeed, but the thing is for me it felt too little. I was only truly affected by the stark complexity of its final third. However, I would have not gotten there if it weren’t for the entire first part of the film. This movie takes some genuine emotional audience participation, which for your average film is actually quite a lot to ask. It can be draining, it requires us to think, to empathize, and to allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable.
With that, be patient with people who hated the movie. It demands more of an investment than most are willing to give when watching a film. For most people, movies are supposed to be a safe escape from the stresses of everyday life. Under the Skin, unfortunately, exposes these stresses with naked frivolity, with a pacing that is pensive at best.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, but the main reason I’m going to give this movie a high rating is because of the amazing soundtrack of Mica Levi. It is the best soundtrack I’ve heard in years and a treat for every writer/filmmaker/composer out there. Another plus is for the amazing and surreal Cinematography, the scenes shot in crisp black and crisp white backgrounds are spectacular, and stay in your mind for a while.
Under The Skin gets an 8.6/10