by / March 19th, 2014 /

Under the Skin

Review by on March 19th, 2014

 1/5 Rating

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson
Certificate: 15a
Running Times: 108 minutes
Release Date: March 14th

Glazer’s first film in about nine years is simply unclassifiable; it is a science fiction film but it is also a contemporary drama and an unashamed art-house flick. It’s not heavy on plot but then it’s purpose does not appear to be have one and yet to claim that there’s not a lot going on would be incorrect. Whatever it is, it does demand the viewers’ attention. This is not a film one can simply observe, the room needs to be dark and the phone needs to be off.

Scarlett Johansson is compelling as the central character, an alien who prowls around Glasgow in a white Ford Transit, luring drunk, bored men into the van with a combination of her looks and a series of clipped questions—without waiting for the full answer—delivered in a fairly convincing English accent. What planet she is from is never mentioned, why she is in Glasgow is never explained and the character’s name is never given. She is simply a succubus luring men into the black ooze where they soon see the floating corpses of her previous victims. There is an attempt by her to mingle amongst society but this fails; a chocolate cake just lodges in her throat and the merits of watching Tommy Cooper or having sexual intercourse just seem confusing.

Glazer’s film is that rare beast; film as a form of poetry, something not seen in the mainstream since There Will Be Blood. He allows the camera work and the soundtrack to become their own medium, free of the reliance upon dialogue or plot progression. This can fail just as easily as it succeeds but Glazer has pulled it off with aplomb. What was a fairly simple story about an alien consuming drunken Glaswegians has become a study on urban anonymity, about society’s drive for identity and individuality in the age of consumerism and increasingly concentrated populations.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Johnasson spoke of how she was glad the film did not cover the middle ground, that her discussions with critics and interviewers have either been euphoric or of total condemnation. Regardless of the side you come down on she certainly has a point, this is one that will continue to divide audiences into those who love it or hate it. The sheer unclassifiable nature of the film will make sure that happens; in my case I love that a label cannot be put on it. It is a film that will haunt and challenge you, a film that will continue to trouble you for many years to come.

Review originally appeared on Notebooks on Cinema.