Film Review: Under the Skin

2014-04-27 13.22.14A friend told us about the Electric Cinema. We have been trying all of these different places around London, and we couldn’t wait to see this place. I can’t stand going to the big multiplexes because of the crying babies, texting teenagers, and sticky floors, so when we walked into this space last weekend in the heart of Notting Hill, I was thrilled.

The show was close to sold out as we made our way to our assigned arm chairs and cushy couches. We relaxed and kicked our feet up as we waited for the film to start.

Since moving to London, I have decided I would start my career over and step away from book publishing to work toward my dream of becoming a film producer. So, it was time to get back into seeing movies that challenge art and the film vehicle, which I believe Under the Skin does expertly. 

This is the first film from Jonathan Glazer in about a decade. Most famous for Sexy Beast and Birth, he comes out of the woodwork with this visual display loosely based on the novel by Michel Faber. Most of the film relies on ambient sounds or the musical stylings of Mica Levi. The music is so well placed throughout the film creating a tense and unhinged feeling each time Scarlett (Laura) seduces one of her men.

The story of this film is simply an alien seductress prays on hitchhikers in Scotland. To what purpose or goal, we don’t know. Nor do we know exactly where the men go and become. From the title, I can only assume they are harvested for skin.

When Laura seduces the men, she habitually brings them back to a warehouse or empty space, slowly removing articles of clothing, urging the men to do the same. As she continues to walk on a serene black surface, the men sink into the inky abyss, disappearing into a sort of liquid holding cell.

The visual effects inside the holding area were incredible and worth the price of admission alone. I won’t go further but to say I jumped in the theater watching the design, and also thanks to the music queues.

There is not a lot of spoken dialogue, but when there is, I am grateful I’ve been in the UK for the last few months since I can understand the heavy Scottish accents a little better without the use of subtitles, but maybe the point is that you don’t need to understand the characters since the men are typically nominal.

The big turning point of the film is when Laura accidentally finds a mirror and can finally see herself for what she is. Without speaking for most of the film, the audience relies heavily on the visual impact of the shots and scenes, which were beautiful and well-crafted.

Jonathan Glazer features the Scottish landscape almost as a supporting character as it sets the mood with each scene. We never see days with sunshine or blue skies. Instead we see damp, gray, and obscure images which reflect well on the tone of the movie.

While I do believe some parts of the film were done just for art’s sake, the overall picture was quite beautiful and a great display of the director’s talent.

This was a far cry from The Avengers for Scarlett Johansson, but I thought she did well with the limited dialogue she was given and the British accent she practiced. I did think it a little odd that she didn’t sport a Scottish brogue as the rest of the cast had, but I wonder if that’s not because if anyone needed to be most understood without subtitles, it would be her.

All in all, I recommend the film highly and am now curious to read the book. But do understand that this is not an action-packed movie, but rather a full expression of a sci-fi art piece.

4 out of 5 stars

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