Michel Faber's 2000 science fiction novel "Under the Skin" follows an alien tasked with kidnapping earthlings and selling their bodies for consumption back home. Adapting the material into his first feature since 2004's "Birth," music video director Jonathan Glazer only borrows half that premise, following the extraterrestrial seductress (a virtually unrecognizable Scarlett Johansson) as she repeatedly nabs hapless male victims, but leaves her motives entirely offscreen. A totally wacky head-trip with midnight movie sensibilities and a daring avant garde spirit, Glazer's movie is ultimately too aimlessly weird to make its trippy narrative fully satisfying, but owes much to Johansson's intense commitment to a strangely erotic and unnerving performance unlike anything she has done before.
Glazer has always been longer on atmosphere and uncanny moods than on narrative, but the fatal flaw of "Under the Skin" isn’t that not much happens; it's that what does happen isn't all that interesting. The world as seen through alien eyes, it turns out, looks much like the world as seen through the eyes of a schizophrenic ("Repulsion"), a paranoiac (Lodge Kerrigan's "Keane") or a sociopath (Cristi Puiu's "Aurora") -- which, if it's Glazer's point, is one he makes early and often, Johansson doing her best to convey varying degrees of blankness and incomprehension at her own actions and those of others.
Glazer may be the visionary behind "Under the Skin" cinematic highs, but it must be noted that this film lives and dies on Johansson's incredible turn. Johansson's dialogue is mostly limited to her pickup lines as she scours the city for new meat. Even though a majority of her scenes are silent the 28-year-old actress still finds a way to bring a distinct dramatic arc to her character. Johansson has shown signs before, but even her harshest critics will have to recognize she's clearly grown into a world class actress.
Buyers settling in for 1st Telluride screening of David Mackenzie's "Starred Up". Roadside, Sony, Searchlight in the house.