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Review: Under the Skin - Avant-Garde Intergalactic Maneater

Reviews
by Carlos Aguilar
April 4, 2014 4:00 PM
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Under the Skin

"What matters is what’s on the inside" A catch phrase that aims to lessen the role that physical appearance plays in human interactions. Predisposed to be bane, humans base their first impressions of one another on what’s tangible and visible – the surface. But for a predator vanity is irrelevant, there is a purpose for consuming the victim and it bears no emotional connection. The more the hunter resembles its prey the easier it will be to executive its mission. Under such premise is that Scarlett Johansson's character thrives in visionary director Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin.

Scarlett Johansson

Cosmic noises and outer space imagery provide an avant-garde introduction to an alien being, who has landed on Earth disguised as a beautiful woman. Unclear at first why, the creature, played by Johansson, seems to be on the prowl instantly after its arrival. “It” in the form of a “she” wanders the streets of Scotland in an inconspicuous van seeking to find the most vulnerable specimens - those who will not be missed. Acting like a damsel in distress she asks for directions and sparks conversations with several young men, which, given her seductive figure, easily give in to her charm. Even more enticing is the fact that none of them knew they were being filmed. Genuine and a tad intimidated by Johansson’s tactics, these men who, not only agree to help her, but to ride with her, create a sort of case study on the human male behavior.

By their visual judgment of her character they assume she is harmless. Clearly she is the perfect wolf in sheep’s clothing- a beautiful lipstick-wearing villain. Glazer’s incognito filmmaking experiment, which placed cameras all around the inside of the vehicle, equally allowed the actress to benefit from not having a camera in front of her. She is forced to react to each individual in real time. Such incredible quasi-documentarian stunt contributes to the fascinating approach employed in every frame of the piece.

Swallowed into an abstract blackness, the men become interplanetary nourishment for an undisclosed race of extraterrestrial beings, for which humans are nothing more than a commodity. Appealing to their primal sexual fantasies, the black-haired makeshift woman lures them into a dark empty space that will become their final resting place. This is a kind of twilight portal that devours them leaving behind the human equivalent of a plastic wrap: the skin.

Under the Skin

As the unknown creature, Johansson is impeccable. Her perversely irresistible demeanor is never affected by her status as a Hollywood star. She dives fully into the role to create something strangely compelling. What she is has no name, there is no way to describe it. All the hedonistic pursuits that define life on this planet have no effect on her, yet somehow, slowly, curiosity strikes her. She tries to understand the reasons behind those things that make life as we know it memorable: pain, food, or sex. Yet, she fails, not because she doesn’t want to, but because she lacks everything else that makes mankind so complex.


Curiously enough, she also lacks the ability to comprehend the subjectivity of beauty. What is ugly or pretty, what is normal or not. There is no superficial classification, and though this means she can perceive humans only as a resource, it also means her intentions are pure. There are no preferences in her procedure, only prime, gullible, victims. No matter how they look on the outside, they are still flesh and bone under the skin.

Glazer’s latest adapts the novel by the same into something incredibly cinematic. On top of the marvelously dark imagery is Mica Levi's score that penetrates one's psyche with haunting poignancy. Never obvious or direct about the meaning behind it all, the film is a provocative experience from a fearless artist. Under the Skin is a genre masterpiece, it revels in its cryptic uniqueness and confronts the audience with a nightmarish poetry unlike anything seen in recent memory. It is a subcutaneously inebriating trance that riddles and fascinates from start to finish, as enigmatic as all the

idiosyncrasies of our tormented species.


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