This may be the most difficult movie I have had to review. Not because it is bad, but because of how it shatters the conventions of filmmaking resulting in one of the most original movies in years. This is the type of movie I live for. It is far from the cookie-cutter, big-budgeted, popcorn flicks. It is nothing like we have ever seen before.
The plot is pretty barebones. Scarlett Johansson plays an unnamed alien who spends her time driving around Scotland in a white van, seducing lonely men into coming with her, only to find themselves walking into a black, tar-like pool, that eventually sucks their flesh out of their bodies, leaving only the skin behind.
Sounds bizarre? That isn’t even the half of it.
There is hardly any dialogue in this film, which is likely to deter a number of people away. The only speaking we really get is Johansson talking to the various men she is trying to kidnap (most of them were actually just random men on the street, who were only informed after a while that they were in a film). There is even less talking than in a Mallick film, yet it is absolutely compelling.
Since there is hardly any dialogue, it is Johansson’s seductive and alluring performance that carries this movie. She has no emotion, she has no need for sleep or food; she is almost a robot. But the movie isn’t about the kidnapping of the men, or someone trying to catch her. We get no real motive for why she is doing what she is doing, nor do we not get an explanation of the man who assists her. If you aren’t looking to be forced to think, then you definitely should not watch this movie, it doesn’t blatantly answer the questions it raises, nor does it have a nice summary at the end of what happened. You have to make your own interpretations and your own conclusions about what you watched.
The movie evolves into a meditative questioning of what really makes one a human being. Is it simply having the appearance of one? Is it the ability to have emotions? To eat? These questions are what Johansson’s character struggles with throughout the film, all without any sort of dialogue to help us into her brain.
The director, Jonathan Glazer, is going to be a name to look out for. He has directed two movies previously, but this is going to be the one he will be remembered for. He infuses it with influences from Kubrick, Tarkovsky, and the dark, broodiness of a Fincher film, giving us a truly unique movie with special effects and scenes that are utterly original and haunting. The cinematography is also beautiful and dreamlike. The various landscapes of the Scotland lend their eerie emptiness and beauty to the movie creating an entirely absorbing environment that reflects the solitude of our main character.
I also want to make a note for the sound design in this film. At times it is entirely quiet, you could hear a pin drop, and then the creepy score kicks in, and things become extremely loud, as if it is overwhelming for our alien. The sounds help make the film even more engrossing, truly getting under your skin.
I have a feeling that this movie will be one people are going to talk about more and more when it gets released on DVD, because it most definitely requires more than one or two viewings, much like a Kubrick film. Glazer is on his way to establishing himself as a director who breaks the mold of filmmaking in today’s Hollywood. His risk to make a film with hardly any dialogue surely paid off. Under the Skin is a powerful, mesmerizing, and engrossing film that needs to be seen