Under The Skin **** (out of five)
Unquestionably the boldest feature film to be released into the mainstream cinema thus far this year, Jonathan Glazer’s third feature Under The Skin borders on “experimental”. Combining relentlessly precise sequences with those shot surreptitiously – ensnaring people on the street into the story – this science fiction / horror hybrid manages the seemingly hopeless task of telling a very clear story in a completely oblique manner.
Scarlett Johansson plays an alien being wearing the skin – or at least the likeness – of a dead (and extremely attractive) woman as she drives around Glasgow picking up random men on their own (played mainly by real random men walking on their own, who entered Johansson’s van of their own accord). These men are driven around by her (as she speaks in a perfect upper-class British accent) and engage with her blatant, child-like flirtation (only to have the ultimate cock-blocking candid camera move played on them when told that they were actually in a movie). The alien is pursuing certain vague goals on earth, but, while here, as aliens often do, she begins to find humanity curious rather than simply expendable.
Glazer’s Sexy Beast and Birth were idiosyncratic but Under The Skin trumps them triumphantly, being compelling, weird, intensely disturbing and ultimately bizarrely moving. Many of its images are shockingly vivid for me two weeks after having seen it – of how many films can you say that? Johansson is perfect, the unknowing Glasgow lads fit seamlessly into the strange rhythms and tone of the whole, and the more experimental sequences, obviously and unashamedly constructed in the style of Kubrick, are deeply fascinating. This is a film that is going to be referenced for decades to come (as Sexy Beast already is) and if you miss it at the cinema, you’re missing out. Excellent.