Under the Skin is the experimental sic-fi thriller directed by Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) and starring Scarlett Johansson.  Set in the hills of rainy Scotland, Under the Skin follows extra terrestrial Laura (Scarlett Johansson) as she drives around in a van and attempts to seduce men.  Many of the interactions between Johanson and the men were actual conversations recorded using hidden cameras.  Some of the guys in the film weren’t actors, but random people who had no idea they were being filmed.  Using this as a jumping off point, Under the Skin examines an alien getting used to her human skin, and the emotional baggage that comes with it.

Under the Skin is based on Michael Faber’s novel of the same name.  While the novel focused more on its satirical elements from political themes in big business to environmental decay, the film keeps the themes on a more personal level, mostly focusing on sexual identity.  It’s a strange film, that focuses primarily on Johansson’s character Laura as she picks up random guys throughout Scotland.  Once she picks the men up, with the promise of a sexual encounter, she lures them back to her “base”, where the bodies are harvested in some sort of liquid.  Using both scripted actors and random people together in a strictly narrative film is an interesting idea.  However, the film answers almost none of the questions it brings up, and relies on the audience to instead reflect on what it meant to them, and come up with their own interpretation.  I won’t hesitate to say that I don’t think I understood exactly what was going on.

Human emotion is a distinctly unique trait, which aliens (at least the popular belief) almost never display (which seems like how we are advancing as a species).  We no longer empathize the way we once did, and to some it’s a much more cutthroat world.  Consider how we treat the worst among us, from the homeless to the average addict-overall as a species we’re doing a terrible job.  In 2014 there is slavery throughout the world as nations are built on the backs of free or cheap labor.  Things are messed up, and if we simply step back and help each other on a micro level, the macro will also begin to fix itself (or disrupt our pyramidal unaccountable elite).  We see a great deal of compassion and empathy on the micro level, as your average person is at heart, well, good.  After a little bit of time on earth, Laura began to see that there is something inherently good in people.  She spends more time with the men as the film goes on.  Unfortunately, the “bad” shine through, whether or not that’s representative of the way the author or director feel, the way it’ll eventually end for us is up for interpretation.

Under the Skin is an effective thriller, that had me guessing throughout.  While short on answers, I appreciate a film that leaves room for interpretation.  I had no idea what was going on, and am still struggling as I attempt to make sense of what I saw.  The ending was disappointing, as the build up never really paid off.  Overall, the film at times is tedious, but overall effective.  It’s a visually stunning thriller that plays out like an art house film.  The atmosphere set in the film, adds a distinctly unique viewing experience.  Scarlett Johansson does an exceptional job, albeit a subtle performance.  Under the Skin comes up a bit short in the end, but if you’re looking for something different than your typical Hollwood (insert noun here), it’s highly recommended.

Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Williams, Paul Brannigan, and Kryštof Hádek, and can be seen in select cities now.

About the Author

Peter Towe
Peter Towe
A graduate of UMASS Boston, I have successfully put off getting a "real" job, and continue to watch, produce, review, and obsess over movies. I lived in Boston while I completed my degree, and now live in Chicago trying the improv thing.