Under the Skin (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
So there are movies out there that divide audiences, this is one of those movies. Under the Skin will undoubtedly divide audiences who like to go see commercial films, from those who enjoy more artful fare. Films that break with the norm and try different things, different structures. Under the Skin doesn’t subscribe to Hollywood formulas, we don’t have a hero trying to solve some problem, we don’t follow a clear three part structure, in fact, we don’t know what the hell is going to happen next. Director Jonathan Glazer gets a rousing shout of approval from this Film Connoisseur.
Under the Skin is the story of a sexy voluptuous alien (Johansson) who goes around town looking for lonely guys she can feed on. That’s really all I can say, you see, this isn’t exactly the kind of film that is overtly complex, yet strangely enough, even though it’s simple in many ways, it also comments on society and the world we live in. Most of all, it comments on men’s obsession with sex and the female body, that they will do anything to be with a woman, to share that amazing moment of intimacy. It speaks about how that desire, can blind us, drive us. But also, it speaks about the ugly side of sex, how a man is willing to step into the world of rape and violence to get it. So yeah, a “simple” movie in many ways, but if we look past its apparent simplicity, it actually comments on some very important themes.
Think about this film as an art house version of Lifeforce (1985), because it really is the best way that I can describe it. I know it sounds weird to compare a film like this one with Hooper’s Lifeforce, but both films are extremely similar: female alien goes around picking up lonely dudes, seducing them so she can suck the life force out of them. This is exactly what happens in both movies! The difference between both films is that Hooper Lifeforce is a glorified b-movie, while Under the Skin takes a more experimental route. It’s more artsy, for lack of a better word. But I loved how without realizing it, I suddenly felt like I was watching a movie about a space vampire! Want more similarities? Well, how about the fact that Scarlett Johansson gets naked throughout the entire film? Remind you of Lifeforce yet?
When I say Under the Skin is ‘artsy’ by that I mean it’s that kind of film that just hovers on a moment so you can really absorb it, kind of the way that Werner Herzog or Terrence Hill do. You know, where they will just linger on a vista, or stay on a moment so you’ll really get the feel of being there. It also has these long moments without dialog, in fact, Scarlett Johansson’s character hardly speaks. She only talks when she’s going to pick up a guy from the street. The film also used experimental filmmaking techniques for certain scenes, for example, there’s moments in which the alien walks into a mall, or a nightclub, and the filmmakers used hidden cameras to capture real people going about their business, in this way, the film was successful in capturing humanity in its natural habitat. You know how sometimes you wish you could tape people on the street, because truth is sometimes stranger than fiction? Well, they actually do that on this movie, the result is real, no extras, just real people.
That the film is so different from anything out there makes perfect sense when we take in consideration that the director is Jonathan Glazer, who also directed Birth (2004), the film in which Nicole Kidman ends up kind of falling in love with a ten year old kid who is apparently the reincarnation of her dead husband, or is he? It was a controversial film when it was first released, I remember seeing it in theaters and being perplexed by it, and slightly shocked, but I also remember being wowed by the beautiful imagery. Under the Skin is not without those beautiful images, in fact, the filmmakers went out of their way to find these beautiful locations, again, Glazer did what Werner Herzog does. He finds these beautiful locations to shoot in, you’d swear they aren’t real. But they are, and they serve as a beautiful reminder of the amazing planet we live in.
While Under the Sking is undoubtedly a different kind of film, Glazer also shows he has many cinematic influences, displaying elements you could find in other directors works, for example you can find the surrealism and symmetrical perfection of Stanley Kubrick in abstract images that seem to come right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can also find that ominous feeling you get from watching a David Lynch film, the beautiful locations from a Herzog film, in other words, Glazer loves many amazing filmmakers and puts a lot of them into his own films, but also, of course, adding his own taste and flavor to the mix. That deadly serious tone that all of his films have. This proves what I’ve always said about films, you can give the script to ten different directors, and you’ll end up getting ten, totally different films. I mean, Hooper with the concept of a female space vampire did Lifeforce and look at what Glazer did with the same exact idea, a refreshingly different film. Take it from me; if you like films that break with the norm, this is a film you should not miss. Highly recommended!
Rating: 5 out of 5