Under the Skin (2014)


I think this is going to be the hardest review I’ve done so far, as the film in question is hard to peg in a set category and I still, one day after watching, don’t know if I liked it or not. The way it’s done by Jonathan Glazer is undeniably bold and different and the study of human life through extraterrestrial eyes is interesting but it’s an extremely odd watch for sure.

Up in Glasgow, Scotland a young female body is taken and inhabited by an unnamed woman (Scarlett Johansson), who proceeds to drive around the city in search for lonely men. It develops that this near silent woman is not one of us and is luring men to murky black deaths to use their skins. Though the longer she stays on Earth the more she starts becoming human and that’s a confusing state for her to be in.

It’s a movie that even if I come to a decision at some point of not liking it, I can definitely say I appreciated it, a lot. The whole style and vision of the picture is remarkable, a haunting tour of our world through frankly, rather unnerving eyes. The thematic quality of human culture and the way we go about our lives is repeated perhaps too much as this alien lady drives around Glasgow. Though it’s a theme of life and us that grips and won’t let go because it’s done so chillingly.

I’d love to view this film on the big screen and not on DVD as hearing the amazing sound work in a large quiet room would provide a ton of extra nourishing atmosphere. Mica Levi is superb in the music he creates for this bone rattling other wordly tale. A huge amount of dues have to fall in the laps of sound engineer Nigel Albermaniche and sound editing supervisor Johnnie Burn who produce a washed out series of sounds, the studio work filling in over the top and adding weird mixed of crowd noise, hushes and speaking over shots of the Scottish city. Just from the opening and the echoed, layered sounds of Johansson counting and uttering words you know you’re in for an audio ride and the best feature of this feature is the sound/music. It’s like a scientific journey of wavering effects and it’s mesmerizing to hear.

The film doesn’t bore but it does feel long, the drama of the piece feeling as if it could push over to pretentiousville, if not right in the centre of there for some anyway. It’s perhaps too arty, I don’t mind clever and artistic films but there’s moments when it feels as if nothing is happening and nothing ever will, though it picks up just when you think it won’t go anywhere. The peaks are fully worth it and the story is rewarding and hypnotic even if something inside you is screaming that the film is pointless.

I don’t think it’s pointless, I think it’s a horrifying film, that buries under the skin as if she’s stepping out of the show and enticing you in to the cold nightmarish world too. It looks good, the hidden camera style is beneficial, the creepy supporting actors add extra dimensions and the end is a blazing yet somber wrap up. It’s just eerie and 100% weird, apart from that I don’t how to sell this movie or whether I truly can. It’s a film that you’ll watch only if you’re up for but though it’s not out and out likable it’s easily identified as an experience to remember.

Scarlett Johansson dons a black wig and fur coat and inhabits this almost quiet creature with unfaltering conviction, her performance being trance like in nature as she goes about her thing. There’s an element of beauty to her role but she substitutes her normal Hollywood stature for a more normal yet unearthly vibe that sends shivers down the spine. Assuredly one of her best acting demonstrations even if the film itself may not be my favourite of hers. Adam Pearson deserves special mention for a brilliant and reserved victim and so too does the logger near the end who makes you realise we’re fully on this aliens side.

Surreal and dripping with cold horror, ‘Under the Skin’ will most likely get under your skin if mostly because of Johansson and a brilliant combination of music and sound mixing.



2 thoughts on “Under the Skin (2014)

  1. absolutely spot-on about the sound design. this was one of my favourite films of 2014, and i think Johansson gave the performance of her career. i’ve watched it several times, and am still not fully sure what it means, but i do know that it’s an important film

  2. It was baffling n perplexing n surreal n haunting yet it was difficult for me to take my eyes from the screen. I don’t know if I’d call it one of the best or worst films of the year but I’m sure it’s a unique one. In a category of its own! Wonderful review.

    I myself just posted my own take on it. Feel free to swing by whenever you got time to waste 😉

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