Sunday 29 April 2018

Movie Review: Under The Skin (2013)

A moody science fiction drama, Under The Skin sacrifices all plot points in favour of dense style.

In Scotland, a motorcyclist retrieves an unresponsive woman from a ditch, and her clothes are peeled off and used by an unnamed woman (Scarlett Johansson). She then goes hunting for random lonely men, luring them to ride in her van, taking them to an isolated house where they are hypnotized by her beauty. The men walk as if in a trance into deep black goo, where they are trapped and eventually consumed. The predator also has an encounter with a family in trouble on the beach and their would-be rescuer, as well as a man with a facial disfigurement.

Directed and co-written by Jonathan Glazer, Under The Skin is an adaptation of a Michel Faber book from 2000. The film strips down the story to almost nothing, and instead focusses on a sense of detached style. The meagre events unfold mostly in silence. Character interactions are limited to the predator convincing clueless men to ride along in her van, a trip that proves to be final and fatal for most of them.

With plenty of support from local tax dollars, Under The Skin often doubles as an on-the-ground tourist spin through Scotland, with stops ranging from Glasgow urban settings to jagged beaches and the rustic countryside. With Glazer often favouring long shots, the camera either motionless or gliding, the visuals are impressive and convey a sense of aloofness suitable for strange disappearances.

But style alone is not enough to save the film, and Under The Skin slowly but surely sinks under the weight of pretentiousness. The paucity of any narrative elements creates an abstract vacuum where any theories about life, death, the asymmetrical battle of the sexes, social isolation and alien invasions can be inserted. When the canvass is this empty anything can be superimposed upon it, but the film itself offers next to nothing to hang onto.

Scarlett Johansson slices through the film with gratifying intensity, and offers just the occasional glimpse of self awareness and doubt to pique interest. In one scene she stares with intent curiosity at her mirror image, and later, in a fright, tries to untangle the puzzle of her reproductive system. These moments do give the film a short sharp boost, before giving way again to...not much of anything.

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