Under the Skin (2014)


Yes, there is such a thing as “sexy aliens”.

An alien (Scarlett Johansson) takes over the body of a sexy, young-ish looking thing and carries out a cryptic message from the powers that be up above. Although the message is not made clear, it seems like she is to find random, lonely men on the streets of Scotland, take them back to an isolated place, and tease them with sex, yet, at the same time, have these poor guys sucked into whatever gelatin-like substance that turns them into something that’s clearly not human. The alien is also followed by a dude on a motorcycle who keeps track of the things she does, as well as to whom, but begins to grow suspicious when she gets something of a conscious. That, or the fact that she’s noticed what the real world is like and doesn’t just want to be an alien anymore, but more human than human. If that’s even possible, that is.

If you’re confused by that synopsis right there, don’t worry, because I am too and I wrote the damn thing! However, I think that’s the first element that needs to be said about this movie: Don’t expect to know much of anything that’s going on. If you can do that and are fine with that, then this movie will be something of a strange, yet delightful treat; if you can’t, however, it may be a bit of stretch. Not just for you to stay awake and continue to give this a chance, but for your mind because this thing will surely do a number on it, as it did to mine.

I guess it’s worth noting that director Jonathan Glazer has been trying to get this movie made for a total of nine years, and whatever those reasons may have been behind the constant delays in filming, seem somewhat reasonable. This movie is definitely not an easy one to get involved with, let alone fund in hopes of more money coming back, but it gets away with being just what it is. Which is, essentially, Glazer’s insane, but beautiful mind at work.

At least we know she enjoys long walks on the beach. That's one thing we know about her.
At least we know one thing about her: She likes long walks on the beach.

Some of the things he does in this movie are incredibly stunning to look at, but not because it’s anything weird, per se; it’s more because you can never tell what sort of style Glazer himself is incorporating into this film. The story sort of comes second to whatever visual imagery Glazer wants to create and because of that, we have a movie that’s not only gorgeous, but rather large in scope of what it wants to talk about, or where it wants to go. Once again, the movie never makes itself clear about what it’s showing us and why, but that’s not the point; the point is to see what Glazer can bring to the screen and how he’s able to entrance us.

Now, that’s not to say the story doesn’t exist, nor is it not a very compelling one; in fact, it’s downright terrifying at times, but for the whole sake that it’s confusing and never wholly clear. But it is to say that Glazer wants to give us a feeling that even though the film takes place on planet Earth (in Scotland to be exact), it isn’t necessarily easily understandable, nor is it a movie that wants to connect with us. It wants to freak us out, get under our skin, and continuously shock us by bringing whatever sort of crazy imagery Glazer himself has to bring to our eyes. Some of it’s pretty, and some of it’s downright disturbing – but it’s all shocking, in the best ways possible.

That last sentence could actually apply to Scarlett Johansson as well who, for most of the movie, seems like she herself is transfixed in some sort of daze that when she wakes up, snaps out of it and has to be charming, it’s impressive-as-hell and makes you want to slap all of the nay-sayers who have been questioning her talents as an actress since day one. Now, if you don’t already know something about this movie, it’s that ScarJo actually drove a truck around Scotland, picked up random strangers off the street, drove them around, talked to them and had it all filmed, with her character’s persona totally in tact. It’s a odd element of Borat that this movie has, but it works so well because it makes you question just how far Glazer and co. were willing to go with this device, and just what each and every person they talked to was going to bring to the table.

But the one who really comes out on top of it all is Johansson herself, as she’s able to not only have us all hot, sweaty and bothered by being in her presence, but also be absolutely petrified of what she is going to do next and to whom. Her character goes unnamed and because of that, she stays a complete mysterious to us the whole entire time. And I definitely like to think that Glazer preferred it this way, rather than giving us the impression that we know this character and can easily spell her out from the very beginning.

In fact, you could even say that about the whole movie, really. To see a something that doesn’t really give a crap about keeping up with story or any certain agenda for that matter, is quite refreshing for someone like me. Sure, I would have definitely loved this movie more if the third-act didn’t topple over itself once it decided that it wanted to take its character seriously and have her seem more like a “human”, but that didn’t bother me as much as it just made me think more about this movie and what message Glazer was trying to convey with it. Is he trying to show us that “being human”, isn’t just about looking like so and being a normal, everyday citizen? Or, is it about what’s really on the inside of a person that counts and makes us an actual living, breathing, and sexxing human being?

Yep, don't even ask.
Yep, don’t even ask.

Both questions deserve to be brought up, especially when watching something as unique and mind-boggling as this, but a part of me feels like I’m just looking into something a lot deeper than I should be. That’s not to say if I went up to Glazer in real life and started having a discussion with him about this movie and my thoughts/ideas about it, that he wouldn’t welcome them because this is the kind of movie that invites analysis from various view-points. However, another part of me just believes that I want to dig deeper and deeper into this movie so that I can feel “smarter” than the rest of the bunch that may have seen this and left utterly confused. Not just with the movies, but with their own lives in general.

But anyway, I digress before I get completely off-track: This movie’s something else, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s surprising in the certain places it goes and how Glazer makes his story seem like anything could happen, and there’d be no problem with that whatsoever. When you’re a film maker that’s made it clear your story could take place in any universe, then the whole landscape is your playing field and it was an absolute treat to see Glazer constantly play with whatever tools he had at his disposal. I may make the movie seem more “fun”, than what it would present itself as being through its advertising, but there’s a certain element of that to be felt in here; you don’t fully know what to expect next from anything here and there’s something entertaining about that.

If only more movies were like that, we’d probably be in a much better place altogether.

Consensus: While sometimes bordering on being incoherent, Under the Skin isn’t about its story, or whatever message it’s trying to get across, it’s about how far Jonathan Glazer is able to go with the look, the feel and the pulse of his movie, while we just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it for as much, or for as long as we can.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Alien or not, I'll follow her anywhere.
Alien or not, I’d follow her anywhere.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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40 comments

  1. For me, this is Scar-Jo’s crowning achievement and a full indication that she isn’t just one of the best actresses working today but also to never dismiss her. She fucking killed it and more.

  2. Yeah, I didn’t like this one. I *almost* outright hated it. Perhaps I just didn’t “get” it the way I was supposed to, but the film overall bored me to tears. I kept waiting for something meaningful, purposeful, something indelible to happen, but apart from Johannson getting nude, there was little else to recommend the film aside from some astonishingly bizarre visuals.

    My own review is up in a few weeks, so i hope you’ll read it for an alternative viewpoint! Great review anyway, Dan, I just couldn’t summon the energy to agree with your score!

    • It’s hard to get into this movie, and I don’t blame you for sort of losing track of everything. I’ll make sure to check the review out though, bud!

  3. Excellent review dude, I didn’t actually really think about the movie in terms of Glazer just going nuts and pushing the boundaries just because. Great way to look at it and I’d have to agree. There are some scenes in here that are just. . .bizarre! I loved it, glad you got a kick out of it as well. This is the kind of movie that will make general audiences frustrated easily I think

    • It doesn’t seem like has a whole agenda behind making this movie, but it’s clear that he does not give a shit about anything. And it totally works.

  4. I really enjoyed this one. One of my favourites of the year so far – a really interesting film and Glazer is a terrific director.

  5. Nice review, one of my favourites of 2014. I’m in pretty much the same boat in simultaneously wanting to pick it apart and being reluctant to do so … still, looking forward to a rewatch once it’s released on Blu-Ray here.

  6. I’ve been curious about this for a while. The visuals must have been quite impressive to get this rating from you. Normally you’re pretty tough on the story if it can’t carry the film. Thanks for the review!

  7. Great review! I didn’t realize the director spent 9 years trying to get this made. Maybe if he had actually adapted the entire book as opposed to just 1/3 of it, it would’ve been quicker. Bitter, party of one!

  8. To me, this film is a metaphor for our culture’s love of serial killers. Scarlet’s character is a sexy serial killer, and in our culture, there is an attraction, or a love affair with serial killers. Typically, it’s men like Christian Bale in ‘American Psycho’ but there are shows like ‘Dexter’ or ‘Hannibal’ or even that British series ‘The Fall’ with Jamie Dornan that wants to make serial killers sexy or attractive. This one merely reverses genders and has the attractive serial killer be a woman.

  9. I really liked this film, and found the beach scene and the final scene quite haunting! Have you seen “Enemy” with Jake Gyllanhaal? Both films have this undercurrent of seduction and the male fear of intimacy. I doubt that is Glazer’s main point here, but those seduction scenes are nuts! Great review and I hope more people see this movie!

  10. Great review Dan! I’m curious about this one mostly because I used to think Scarlett is a lightweight actress who only relies on her sex appeal. Well she certainly uses it a great deal here but I’m beginning to think she’s got more to offer.

  11. I haven’t experienced it myself but everyone I’ve talked to and every review i have read has said this movie is an entrancing turdmaster. You’re the first to give it a thumbs up, making me consider at least giving it the old college try.

  12. I just don’t understand people who say they “couldn’t get into it”. I was glued to the screen, the whole thing is so beguiling. There’s actually a very clear story, but I have to say it took me more than one viewing to really put all the pieces together – and that’s what the film demands from the viewer; it doesn’t tell you the story, you have to work it out from the imagery on screen. And the use of imagery is terrific – it’s a properly cinematic film.

  13. This is one of the only great films of the year. Glazer’s use of understanding through pain, as dialogue becomes distinguishable and the world shifts from the constructed to the organic, made for some terrifying implications on how we have to relate to each other.

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