Review: Under the Skin (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: An alien in human form (Scarlett Johansson) roams Scotland, luring men into her nest so they can be consumed. After a while, the realities of having a human body, and being desired, begin to have a strange effect on her.
REVIEW: Having debuted a few weeks ago at the Venice Film Festival, UNDER THE SKIN has already had a divisive reaction from the critics. Some have hailed it a masterpiece, while other have claimed it's meandering and self-indulgent. To be sure, the plot is as thin as they come. Scarlett Johansson is a sexy alien, and the first half of the film is literally nothing but her driving around, picking up horny men, and enticing them back to her nest.
Johansson is intentionally robotic throughout. She doesn't convey any emotion, unless she's with a man, where she tries to be seductive. Apparently director Jonathan Glazer often used a cinema verité style, meaning a lot of the men she meets are non actors. Given the way Johansson looks (and she frequently goes nude) it's not hard to believe they would be more than willing to be lured by her.
The most memorable sequence in the film is when Johansson meets a hideously deformed young man, who seems frightened by her kindness. This episode leads to a somewhat more intriguing second half, as Johansson tries to experience humanity for herself. Don't go in expecting much other than the vaguest of plots.
There's definitely a reason so many critics have been cool towards UNDER THE SKIN. It almost defies you not to like it, and Glazer doesn't seem to be interested at all in adhering to the trappings of the sci-fi horror genre. It's experimental and without a doubt a real art film. Like many other critics I felt it nearly impossible to be drawn into the story, but I appreciate the craft behind it, and can't deny it has a handful of brilliant moments. Whether this will ever be known as something more than “the movie where Scarlett Johansson gets naked” remains to be seen, but Glazer deserves more consideration than that.