Under the Skin
by Hope Madden
Jonathan Glazer is a filmmaker worth watching. While you’d hardly call him prolific – he’s directed just three films in his 14 year career – each effort is an enigmatic gem worthy of repeated viewings. His latest, Under the Skin, offers a challenging, low key SciFi adventure that keeps you guessing and demands your attention.
Scarlett Johansson turns in her third back to back stellar indie performance as the nameless lead, a mysterious beauty looking for unattached men in Scotland.
Light on dialogue and devoid of exposition, Under the Skin requires your patience and your attention, but what it delivers is a unique and mesmerizing journey, a science fiction film quite unlike anything else out there.
It’s excellent to see Johansson finding her stride again because she’s a versatile, talented performer. While her stunning looks make it almost impossible for her to sidestep all eye candy roles, her work in Her, Don Jon and this film let her flex some artistic muscle.
That musculature is important here, as the film relies almost solely on Johansson’s performance to get its points across. Her character is a unique vehicle, providing little of the traditional foundation normally available for building an emotional evolution. Johansson excels at articulating her character’s development with barely a word.
It’s an impressive feat, not only because of the tools she has to use to deliver the performance, but because she manages to keep the character in our sympathies regardless of her actions or of Glazer’s regular reminders of her guilt. To Johansson’s great credit, we’ve already forgiven her.
Besides a stellar lead, Glazer has one or two other tricks up his sleeve. The film is refreshingly light on FX, and when he does pull that out, the impact is phenomenal, a fitting turn for the atmospheric mystery he’s building.
Early elements call to mind Kubrick’s 2001, and once the film falls into its pace it conjures last year’s brilliant Upstream Color, but Glazer’s effort is certainly its own artistic achievement. Though an almost relentless series of similar incidents, somehow he punctuates this weird monotony with a fascinating balance of perplexity and humanity, and slowly, themes, character and plot emerge.
The effort may try some viewers’ patience, but for those with the attention span for it, Under the Skin pays a remarkable artistic reward.