Under the skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

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Under the skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer (2013).

Score: eldritch.

An unnamed woman (Scarlett Johansson) finds the corpse of another one and steals her clothes. Then, with the help of a mysterious motorcycle rider (Jeremy McWilliams), she drives a van around Edinburgh, preying on single men who live alone. Widely known for being the movie with full frontal nudity that Scarlett Johansson made, if you came to it out of curiosity, you will stay for its awesomeness.

If you want this film to challenge and surprise you, I suggest you stop reading now.

The opening sets up the tone for the movie. An outer-space, geometrical composition, very much like 2001 and then some long, naturalist shots, reminiscing of the opening scene of Invasion of the body snatchers. We have identified the science-fiction visual code: something alien is going on here, but we’re not told what it is.

The pacing is intentionally slow but the movie provides new information constantly. It’s one of those movies where you have to pay attention to what is going on, because there isn’t any exposition dialogue. Characters will not explain things to each other for your benefit, you need to watch and arrive at the correct conclusion. It has this charm that older, lower-budget science-fiction films have: since it can’t afford to show, it has to make an effort to suggest, and it works thousands of times better than actually showing. It manages to be deeply unsettling: I was watching it with the lights out since the photography is quite dark and had to turn them back on halfway in because I wasn’t feeling safe.

***SPOILERS***

After the The neon demon fiasco, I was really wary of making a wrong guess again. Everything was screaming at me that she was an alien, but it wasn’t being confirmed. The black room abduction sequences are so minimalistic they could mean anything. I was convinced that she was an alien, but maybe I’m obsessed with my favourite genre? Maybe it was a metaphor about sexual abuse? Maybe she abuses men, or she was abused so she takes revenge on men? I even considered that what I was watching wasn’t in chronological order. It seems my life isn’t complicated enough as it is, or something.

In the end, it is confirmed that the main character is an alien in disguise, much to my relief. Then we can reconsider what we have watched and make sense of it: the woman and the motorcycle rider are luring men in order to do goodness knows what to them. After luring the deformed man, the alien is shocked at how much he craved touch and affection, and runs away. She starts reflecting and wondering what it means to be human, maybe starts feeling sympathy for beings she considered inferior and disposable. Alien comes to Earth and ends up feeling human has also been done to death (in fact it is a variation of the “Sorry about colonialism” trope), but it is done very competently here. Unlike The neon demon, once you have all the pieces you can make sense of every event in the movie, including the opening sequence, where the alien is learning to speak English.

***END SPOILERS***

To summarize, eerie, unsettling and slow-paced: a delicious experience.

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