by Robert Barlow
There’s a moment about halfway through Under The Skin when a character literally pinches himself to make sure he isn’t dreaming, as a beautiful and mysterious woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, tries to seduce him. This reaction is appropriate not only for that particular character, but for the audience as well. This film feels like one of those dreams from which you wake, and are convinced was not a dream at all.
There is a unique and unsettling tone throughout Under The Skin that seems a very deliberate choice by director Jonathan Glazer. He keeps the audience at arm’s length from what is actually going on in a film where Johansson plays a character driving around Scotland trying to lure men into a van. Whether it’s the strange electronic score, the accent of some characters that makes it almost impossible to understand what is being said, or the way Glazer holds the camera on a shot much longer than feels natural – it’s all serving a purpose: Keep the viewer disoriented.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t talked much about the plot of Under The Skin yet, and that is deliberate. For some, going into the film with no knowledge of the plot whatsoever will be good because it only heightens the tone of the film. For others, the lack of knowledge might be frustrating and confusing – it’s a fine line with Under The Skin. So, I’ll try and keep it simple and if you feel the need for further investigation before you see the film, I’m sure that you can handle it.
What I will tell you is this. Johansson, who we are used to seeing in films like The Avengers and Lost In Translation, shows a new range in her acting ability as most of the film is told with just her body movements – especially her eyes. She has maybe a total of 30 lines of dialogue throughout the entire film. The reason for her silence and constant seduction become clear as the events of the film play out.
Under The Skin is the sort of original filmmaking that will leave you talking, discussing and debating, long after you leave the theater. The film is a chilling look at female sexuality and the consequences of trying to be something you are not. Under the Skin continues this week at The Little.
Robert Barlow is currently finishing his degree at St. John Fisher College. He left college early to write for Messenger Post newspapers, covering everything from murder trials and town government to film festivals and concerts. He is a self-professed movie geek and has attended the Toronto International Film Festival for 10 years.