Thursday, July 31, 2014


I had heard a lot about UNDER THE SKIN, starring Scarlett Johansson and co-written and directed by Jonathan Glazer. Many reviewers said that the film reminded them of Stanley Kubrick's work. There were also some facebook friends of mine saying that it was one of the best movies of the year, so I decided to check it out for myself.

It is going to be frustrating writing a blog on UNDER THE SKIN, because the only way I can properly discuss this picture is with someone who's already seen it. I can give you the vague outlines of the story--Scarlett Johansson drives around Scotland in a van, trying to pick up men. Why she is doing this, and what happens to these men, are ultimately revealed--or not revealed--to the viewer as the story goes along. To say anymore would just be giving you my interpretation of events.

UNDER THE SKIN did remind me of Kubrick, in the sense that I felt that I was observing something instead of participating in it, and I did not have any emotional attachment to the characters. If that can be called "Kubrickian", well, there it is. This is a very cold film in more ways than one.

Scarlett Johansson does the best she can in the role of the "young woman". Your appreciation for her acting here will be directly tied to how well you understand the story. You've probably heard that Johansson has a number of nude scenes in this film, which is true. However, it's not the usual Hollywood nudity--there's a clinical aspect to it, and Johansson herself is a bit de-glamorized. I'm sure some will watch UNDER THE SKIN just to see Scarlett in the buff--but this isn't the type of movie a bunch of frat boys would rent for a party (unless those frat boys had already consumed about 50 cases of beer).

As I'm sure you've figured out by now, this is far from a mainstream film. I've been moaning for years how modern-day movies give out too much information and too much backstory. This movie gives you no information and no backstory. You have to think while watching UNDER THE SKIN, and you have to pay attention. You can't let the dialogue guide you--this film has almost no dialogue.

How can I classify UNDER THE SKIN? Is it science-fiction or horror, or is it a combination of both? Whatever it is, UNDER THE SKIN is one of the most unsettling movies I have seen in a while, and it's not because of any overt gore or violence. It's more because of what is not shown, or not explained. The cinematography of Daniel Landin and the music of Mica Levi contribute to the uncanny atmosphere.

I can't say that I loved UNDER THE SKIN. I admired it for being intriguing and different, but it is more of an intellectual exercise than the type of film you see for fun. If you're the type of person that likes Will Ferrell and the Transformers, you'd better just skip UNDER THE SKIN altogether (unless you REALLY want to see Scarlett Johansson naked). If you're the type of person who doesn't mind taking on a film that some might consider a challenge, I would say it's worth seeking out.

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