UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.
Review by Louise Keller:
Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast (2000) was more beastly than sexy and Birth (2004) was brave and bizarre. His latest film, Under The Skin moves even further left of field, dishing out a nonsensical and impenetrable scenario that intrigues as a sensory experience with an alien seductress as our guide, but frustrates in the final analysis. Adapted from Michel Faber's novel, Glazer's emphasis is on the mood which he creates from a jarring soundscape and often dazzling visuals. Eventually the film irritates however, and despite the enigmatic presence of the alluring Scarlett Johansson, I felt like shrugging my shoulders, scratching my head and asking why?
The film begins inexplicably with sound in the form of agitations: frenetic soundwaves with scratchy string and synth experimentations. There's a body, a motorcyclist, a van and a transformation as Scarlett Johansson's alien assumes the physicality of the corpse, complete with dark hair, sumptuous red lips and fishnet stockings. No dialogue is uttered for nearly 15 minutes - we only hear the persistent soundscape that scratches, pierces and demands our attention.
From the van's driver's seat, Laura (Johansson) is on the prowl, looking for loners to entice to her lair. The lair is perhaps the film's most fascinating construct: Laura walks provocatively in front of the assorted men she has picked up from the streets, shedding items of clothing onto the inky, shiny black floor as she walks. As if hypnotized by the shapely form before them, the men strip naked, leaving garments behind them in a trail - like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs - before slowly sinking into the deadly black quagmire.
The almost indecipherable heavy Scottish brogue is our clue as to the location. Strange imagery with colours and swirls merge with the screech of the soundscape, above the noises from the street. There is a fat lady with a pram, a girl in a breadshop, a beggar by the church, a woman on the phone, men talking, a boy laughing, old people conversing in what is a jumble of life. The normality of the everyday world is accentuated by alien's perspective. Watch out for the scene in which Laura picks up a grossly deformed man and invites him to touch her. It is one of the film's most mesmerizing moments.
Up to this point, Glazer keeps us engaged - and Johansson brings a beguiling stillness to the role. Then things become rather silly. There's a scene with a chocolate cake, a Walter Raleigh moment, an ancient castle and a sex scene that ends curiously. As for the forest finale, when the prey becomes the victim, the whole dynamic of the premise has shifted to such a point that it becomes nonsensical. Glazer's work is clearly an ambitious and moody interpretation that starts well but ends up as submerged as the naked prey that descend to oblivion in the shiny, black depths.
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UNDER THE SKIN (2013) (MA15+)
CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula
PRODUCER: Nick Wechsler, James Wilson
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Glazer
SCRIPT: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer (novel by Michael Faber)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Daniel Landin
EDITOR: Paul Watts
MUSIC: Mica Levi
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Oddy
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 29, 2014