“The thought that this particular tale was probably not best suited for a feature adaptation is difficult to suppress.”
Under the Skin Review
By Matt Allen
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Michael Moreland, Paul Brannigan
Director(s): Jonathan Glazer
Screenwriter(s): Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell
Running Time: 108 minutes
Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment and agree that if Scarlett Johansson pulled up in a white transit van, flashed us her signature coy smile and, with an air of barefaced suggestion, asked us if we wanted a lift, we’d probably be half way to stark naked before she’d wound the window back up. Unfortunately, if Jonathan Glazer’s third feature film is anything to go by, we’d all meet one of the most hauntingly gruesome ends ever to grace cinema.
Scarlett Johansson’s sexy beast stalks desperate and forlorn highlanders, luring them back home with the promise of sexy-time, only to harvest them as part of a nefarious alien scheme.
Some films conceal their influences behind a veil of knowing nods to their audience, Under the Skin wears its inspiration on its sleeve and puts its cards on the table from the get go. The hypnotic opening sequence, more than a little reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, immediately sets the tone for a piece of cinema which is both beautiful and excruciatingly drawn out. Kubrick’s influence remains intermittently present in the most intriguing and horrific scenes of the film.
The first half of the film follows Johansson’s raven haired temptress as she deftly seduces numerous Scots and leads them back to their final resting place, a mysterious black abyss that lends the film a theatrical atmosphere as the agonised strings of the soundtrack slice through the darkness. While at times frustratingly repetitive, the sense of deja vu can be forgiven as the eventual gruesome payoff is all the better for the teasing build.
Johansson nimbly jumps from plummy, flirtatious sex-kitten to callous automaton in the film’s earlier scenes and gracefully opens up the role as her character slowly develops a conscience. Disappointingly, her character lacks a clear direction following this epiphany and the momentum the film works so hard to build suffers as a consequence. Gradually, ScarJo’s alien goes native and begins to question her macabre mission, thus incurring the wrath of her tenacious brethren and forcing her on the run. Despite Glazer’s wise decision to sidestep multiple clichés (mercifully, we are not subjected to Johansson nursing a baby bird back to health or something equally as trite) it is here that the film begins to sag.
The threat of her pursuers is never tangibly present and the film rapidly rambles on like a run-on sentence, inevitably trailing off into a whimper. The thought that this particular tale (based on the novel of the same name by Michel Faber) was probably not best suited for a feature adaptation is difficult to suppress.
A strong first half somewhat let down by a limp third act. Many may be frustrated to find that what Glazer has essentially made is a 108 minute short film.