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VIFF 2013: Under the Skin Review

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Scarlett-Johansson-in-Under-the-Skin

If anyone has ever commented on Scarlett Johansson’s out-of-this-world beauty, we now know why: she is from outer space.

Johansson stars in Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s eponymous novel, it is the story of an alien coming to earth in search of prey. Her victims are single men and her preferred weapon is that of seduction. Why the aliens need these men is unclear though there is a hint it could be for fuel or food.

There are visually stunning opening scenes of stars, orbs, eyes and we hear the voice of Johansson apparently learning to speak (“film, filmed, film”) in readiness for her earth landing. We then see a motorcyclist pulling up on a roadside, retrieving the body of a young woman and putting her into the back of a parked white van. Within awaits Johansson’s character, naked, ready to strip the girl and dress in her clothes. We are not told who this dead girl is: perhaps a previous model, past her shelf life or killed by human hand. Johansson’s character then sets off in pursuit of some unsuspecting males, her modus operandi being to wind down the van window, act lost and ask for directions before choosing her victims. These she then takes to a house, literally leading them on until they sink below the surface of a pool, their penis erect until the very end.

Johansson is no femme fatale here but is friendly and sweet, winning the men over not just with her looks but with her innocent air. Glazer occasionally used non-actors and we see some local Glaswegians, speaking almost incomprehensible English, chatting Johansson up and giving her directions to Asda. There are also trained actors, most notably Paul Brannigan, lured into the treacherous waters that will hold him until he is taken. Once underwater, this poor man sees what’s in store. The men have been enticed trapped underwater due to their sexual desires; fittingly, once their bodies are sucked dry the remains looks like a giant used condom.

Like all sci-fi films, this is a picture that looks at the human condition. It shows men being stalked and becoming victim to a sexual predator, but by an alien rather than a woman. As Johansson’s character become more human, she herself is hunted down and almost raped. This is no alien, but a man.

The film is also a road journey. Johansson drives to the coast (in one of the most chilling scenes of the film) and to the highlands. Mica Levi’s score is significant in contributing to the atmosphere of a film that has little dialogue. There are even a couple of humorous moments, such as when we see the alien attempting to eat, something she is clearly not programmed to do.

Some detractors might not like the lack of special effects and the book’s fans may balk at the many differences between the novel and the film. But this is a brave and fascinating film that is at once surreal yet depicts a world we know all too well.

(4/5)

Title: VIFF 2013: Under the Skin Review
Reviewed by Jo-Ann Titmarsh on Sep 4
Rating: 4.0