Based on a 2000 surrealist novel by Michel Faber, Under the Skin was written, for the screen, by Walter Campbell, and Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) who would also direct. A process that apparently took ten years, the result is a film that will surely divide opinion, but regardless of your thoughts on it, will leave viewers pondering, curious about its meanings, and discussing the film with others. It’s one of those experiences that stays with you long after it’s over.
It isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine, but on a personal level, and after letting the film settle in my mind for quite some time, I found it to be an incredibly unique and creative films with inventive special effects, absorbing cinematography, and inimitable performances.
It’s a hard one to synopsize, but to simplify it to those who want to know what it’s “all about” without me spoiling the details, it’s about a mysterious young woman who combs the streets of Glasgow looking for lonely men to seduce. The resulting effects of the seduction result in self-growth for the woman, and a nightmarish situation for the unsuspecting seductees. Basically, that’s the film, but there is much more to it, and a deeper meaning behind the task that the clandestine female is carrying out.
The scenes in which the woman, played with a quiet confusion and blank expression by Scarlett Johansson, looks for men to seduce on the streets of Scotland, are done in a way that feels like we’re a fly on the window of the vehicle she drives. These scenes became a little drawn out and have been referred to by some as “tedious” or “boring”, but the dullness of routine is no mistake of the filmmaker, but rather a purposeful effort to show the mundane and agonisingly repetitive job she is there to do. Our emotionless lead brings these victims to a black floored room in which their sexual intentions are annihilated by dreadful realisations, these scenes are haunting, grotesque, and wonderfully done. There is a stark contrast between the dirty and gritty streets, and the shining and clinical netherworld that our female enchantress draws them into.
The film allows you to contemplate. Something I personally felt was exhilarating. It didn’t explain every detail, nor did it intend to guide you, hand-in-hand, through the plot and the happenings on screen with comfortable narrative, but rather inspired and provoked thoughts and curiosities about what was happening, why it was happening, and where, in some situations, these things were occurring. Johansson, taking on a brave and unusual role, is magnificent. Her cold and blank canvas alien life form feels otherworldly in the way she is unable to emote like a human being, and her glances of curiosity at things she is discovering for the first time. The visual metaphors are in abundance throughout the film, and the music, by Mica Levi, pulls is along fantastically. The interactions between the woman and those she meets, as well as the bewildering moments that make more sense the more you think about them are something that made this film truly special in my view. It isn’t every day that a film asks the questions that this one does, about our place in the scheme of things, about what we are doing here, and yet this does it in a way that uses visual suggestions and gestures, and a character who is struggling against the wind, finding herself changing along the way.
At times I felt like there were inspirations of David Lynch here, with the surrealism and nightmarish sequences that are reminiscent of Lynch’s work, but the originality is undeniable, and though it may have been influenced, in style, by other film-makers, it still created something exceptional and thought-provoking, not to mention something that will cause both a positive and negative response in the viewer due to the strange way it makes its points.
I was taken aback by this film. It shook me, causing me to think and interpret things in my own way. The visuals are extraordinary, and the way that the cast portray loneliness, helplessness, power and confusion are astonishing. There were moments, plenty of them in fact, that caused me to scratch my head, metaphorically, because of how bizarre certain moments were, but I cannot be anything but impressed by a film that stayed with me long after the credits rolled. There is a lot to like about this, if you allow yourself to look at the bigger picture. It’s one I look forward to re-watching in the future, with hope of getting that feeling of “what the fuck?” once more.