Reviewed by Daniel Janks: actor, creative director, writer, cynic, father, husband. He was born in 1977 and has still not died. He loves many things, chief among which are his mythic wife and odd girl-child. Visit his website.
Director : Jonathan Glazer
Writer : Walter Campbell
Cast : Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
AGE RESTRICTION: [R] (Very, very [R])
Do not, I repeat do not, take the kiddy winkles. While there’s not much to see, I think it may warp their minds a little. It did mine.
Talk about an art film. This is an art film. It happens to be one about aliens slowly and surreptitiously invading earth one poor bastard at a time, but it’s an art film all right. It’s very good, could be forty minutes shorter, and is a gram or two on the heavy side of weird, but it’s very good.
Scarlett Johansson plays … oh that’s right, there are no character names in the film … so … she plays … this woman, who’s really an alien (don’t worry there’s no spoilers here) who harvests men for their skin. The longer she spends on earth the more conflicted she becomes about her role as a heartless, makes-you-sink-into-the-black-inky-floor temptress of skin-harvesting death. After she meets the elephant man everything changes.
The problem with the film, and the thing that knocked it out of the 4/5 category for me, is that it literally takes about forty minutes for anything to happen. Alien woman prowls around and lures men to her inky floor abode and all, but then she just keeps on doing it. It’s interesting, it’s beautiful, it’s fascinating, but it goes on for a LONG time, in my not-so-humble opinion, it goes on too long.
The acting is brilliant in that it seems, really, not to exist. Performance wise the film feels more like a documentary than a feature. The humans are photo realistic, without any glamour or finesse, and the aliens seem truly … alien, like real un-humans. It’s chilling and enthralling and quite brilliant. But in an EXTREMELY … well … alienating way. This is not a film full of characters you’ll fall in love with. You won’t even like them. Hell you won’t even got to know 99% of them.
Ms Johannson is very good. I’m not always her biggest fan, but she’s very good in this. She is the lynch pin that holds the film together and she manages it very well. Her journey, eventually you’ll see she does have a journey, is fascinating and in the end well worthy the slog of sitting though the slightly arbitrary first forty minutes or so.
Walter Campbell directed two very very good films before Under the Skin. He did Birth and Sexy Beast. He’s not the John Grisham of the film world, churning out a film a year, but the long waits and big gaps between his films are worth it. He’s being likened to a modern day Stanley Kubrick, and with good cause. Under the Skin definitely has the soft meandering feeling of 2001: A Space Odyssey. His direction is tight, sympathetic and minuscule-ly and minutely detailed, and while the film drags for me at times, it is by no means too long, or too slow.
Under the Skin is the definition of weird but wonderful. It’s for art-house audiences only and feels more like a 5 day test than a 20-20 wham bam thank you ma’am, but it’s a beautiful, intricate portrait of humanity, and well worth watching.