Under the Skin Review

Under the Skin (2013) directed by Jonathan Glazer, and written by Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell.  This movie stars Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy McWilliams, and is based on the novel Under the Skin by Michel Faber.

Synopsis: Scarlett Johansson plays an alien femme fatale who inhabits the body of an attractive female in Scotland. She travels around in a white van, and tempts men into her van. She then takes them to a remote location where she kills them.

The story begins with a man riding on a motorcycle (Jeremy McWilliams). He retrieves a woman’s body from a field, and then Johansson strips her of her clothes. She then begins exploring to find items to beautify herself – i.e. a shopping centre and purchases make-up.

In a series of scenes, we see her white van pulling up, and her speaking to men in a flirtatious manner. She uses an English accent which clearly elucidates that she is not local. Captivated by her beauty, the men get into her van and she drives them to her lair. Once they get there, the men strip off and become immersed in a sea of liquid and unable to escape; much like the way spiders catch their prey in their webs. During her capture of these men, the enigmatic motorcyclist is never too far away.

Despite this, there is a scene where she captures a physically deformed man and takes him to her lair. She then decides to set him free – only to then be captured by the motorcyclist and bundled into a car. This clearly states that the motorcyclist is having a clear influence on proceedings, but also that there is more to Johansson than her temptress ways.

As the story progresses, the act of snaring unsuspecting men takes a turn with more focus being on adapting to life as a human. We see her trying to eat like a human, and also see her trying to have sex with a man who takes care of her.

This is not a mainstream science fiction movie by any means, and this needs to be noted before viewing. It is weird, and definitely not to everybody’s taste. The movie is also very slow, and not a lot happens. However, having said that, an interesting story is at the heart of this movie.

Ultimately, this is a story about an alien trying to adapt to human life, and the various aspects that come with this. Having not read the novel, I cannot comment on how true this adaptation was; however, the writers achieved what they set out to do in making a decent movie pertaining to these themes.

This movie does not telegraph its revelations, and remains quite ambiguous. For instance, the motorcyclist character is very mysterious, and although he seems to be assisting Johansson along the way and generally being a strong presence, it is never revealed what/who he actually is. Is he an alien too or some kind of human accomplice?

Having said that, the ambiguity works and the characters are believable. From research, the men who she invites into her van were not actors and had no idea they were being filmed at first. This adds an element of realism to the story, and was very effective.

Johansson was also intriguing as the story’s protagonist. This is definitely not with the mainstream roles she has featured in of late which was refreshing to see. I even rooted for her at a certain scene towards the end where a man tries to rape her. Despite the fact she killed a group of men earlier on, I cared for her which clearly shows the filmmakers got her characterisation right.

With regards to setting, this was filmed practically on my doorstep. Being from Glasgow, the gritty locations they chose were instrumental in creating the sense of unease and tension that were so integral to the movie.

Overall, this is an interesting movie which does the job despite having a very limited budget. Science fiction can definitely be done on a small budget, and I would recommend this for something out-with the norm.

By Robert Spence

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