My highest rated film of the year (so far). Let’s talk about…
Beneath ‘Under The Skin’: Fascination, Fear, and Fur
“Strangely fascinating and eerily beautiful, UNDER THE SKIN sees Scarlett Johansson in her most bizarre femme fatale role onscreen. Director Jonathan Glazer’s exotic mix of science fiction and art house is a one-of-a-kind experience that leaves you speechless out of terror and trance, with a disturbing ‘prey’ music that preludes one of the most shocking sequences in the genre.”
I posted the above capsule review on my Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes accounts, with the assumption that I’ve already realized the fullness of this brilliant film from director Jonathan Glazer (Birth and Sexy Beast). But days later, more reasons emerged in further undressing the Scarlett Johansson-starrer. UNDER THE SKIN is simply a mind-blowing experience; an intricate fable about a beautiful predator who slowly acknowledges the humanness she briefly adapted in a chilly Scotland where unsuspecting man-preys are the real monsters.
I may have used a lot of adjectives to describe UNDER THE SKIN but all the same, the film still makes me speechless. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that not even any 3D/4D/IMAX movie can match. It was the surreal marriage of science fiction and art house that enamored me and Scarlett was just an icing on the wedding cake. Sounds cliché but the beauty of UNDER THE SKIN does not simply run skin-deep; it rushes to the nerves that tingles of fascination and fear on the woman wearing the fur coat.
Scarlett Johansson as the alien in ‘Under The Skin’
UNDER THE SKIN is flawless (no pun intended) of its cinematic elements, making the blend of art house and science fiction the most impeccable among its species. Most sci-fi production sets took significant resources to build their fictional settings, including the special effects. UNDER THE SKIN is a minimalist work of art, coated of plain vanilla but layered of subtle messages. Both the alien and the snowy town of Scotland share the same air of mystery; the weather chilly and her motives chilling. The camera is angled in such a way that implores viewers to not just simply watch Scarlett. Shifting the perspective from audience to alien, they do not ogle but absorb but what they observe. From that, UNDER THE SKIN embodies how the genre succeeds: science fiction is not a fleeting memory; it’s an experience.
And science is just one half of the film’s ingenious biology. UNDER THE SKIN is brimming of striking and haunting imagery. The film does not resort to violence which it leaves to the audience’s presumption (except the alien hitting the man with a rock). Rather, its peculiar horrors resonate, and even yield twice the desired effect. The abandoned crying baby stilled for more than five seconds was painful to watch. And when the eerie music plays to signal the unimaginable scene which was this: (SPOILER!)
…makes me lost of words. UNDER THE SKIN has the unique ability of fascinating and frightening its viewers. That scene, in particular, was the first of its kind that I have ever seen and what happens underneath was a shocker. How bizarre and brilliantly executed it was! But the tricky message UNDER THE SKIN bares is not the roaming extra-terrestrial threat but the helplessness on sexual abuse which the alien was not spared of.
Sure, the alien uses her skin to seduce her preys, but these men are sexual predators themselves. Letting themselves be caught off guard for the promise of pleasure, these men fall victim to their own lustful weakness. The first half of UNDER THE SKIN was a cautionary tale; the alien stripping as a beautiful woman who knows that carnal desire is a commodity of the world she is into. The sequence, glimpsed on the above screen cap, was frightening but not to the point where the audience fear for the victims’ lives. It is their choice after all, and even as they sink, they still ogle at the woman who only wanted their meat.
The second half, however, sees the alien becomes the prey. Prior to her eventful end, she is slowly acknowledging her humanness. The alien becomes conscious of her skin and unlike the emotionless trail she led as a predator, she began to feel sympathy on her last victim. In her awkward attempts, she experienced become a human being. Not that she liked it (she did not like the taste of chocolate cake), but she marveled on the kind of life that the skin exposed her. (SPOILER!) But her experience of human existence was short-lived because of an attempted rape, which even an alien was unable to escape.
UNDER THE SKIN undresses the monsters of science fiction and reality. On one hand is an extra-terrestrial creature, the other is the rapist. But who is the real monster? Who must be more feared and punished? (SPOILER!) The alien burned to her death as the physical struggle from her rapist revealed her actual form. It is queer to realize that what makes us human also makes us evil. I feared for the alien’s life but as the smoke from her ashes rose to the sky, it was clear to me that she was not supposed to stay on this world any longer. She is an alien, after all, but innocent as she was, it was still cruel for her to experience such crime.
Many men come and go but I consider UNDER THE SKIN as a one-woman show. Having played a seductress many times already, Scarlett Johansson is mesmerizing as she brings her femme fatale role to the astronomical level. As the alien, she only speaks when necessary (with a perfect English accent) but it is through her eyes that Scarlett conveys her character’s feelings of stoic, curiosity, and terror effectively. Scarlett finds herself in a smart vehicle (no pun intended) that showcases her subtleties as an actress. UNDER THE SKIN was her first film which she bared her all, and it was not self-imposed and self-important. It was unpretentious and instrumental to the film’s message.
Loosely adapted from Michel Faber’s novel of the same title, UNDER THE SKIN is a must-see for sci-fi enthusiasts and even to those who are just interested on seeing Scarlett as an alien. One of the weirdest and thought-provoking films I had seen, UNDER THE SKIN is more than what meets the eye; it is an immersing experience that should not be missed. 🙂