Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Under the Skin review

At once obtuse and completely relatable, scary and yet domestic, Under the Skin is maybe the most unique film I have seen this year. Based on the book by Michel Faber, the film follows an alien played by Scarlett Johannson, who comes to Earth in order to collect food for her home planet. Much like a black widow spider, she seduces the men, who seem to fall completely to her. There is no sex, as such, and the men are consumed into a blackness, their bodies popped and processed.

It is the way that she picks up the men, however, that is the first major startling process in this film. Communicating with both professional actors and random people in the street (who where previously unaware they where being filmed), the wigged Johannson approaches the men in her white Ford Transit, and offers them a lift. What is startling is the willingness for the men to be with her. The gender roles are completely reversed. Being approached by a strange bloke in a van offering you a lift is the number one signifier of bad times ahead for any woman, so seeing the men fall for this - as they must think she is not a threat - is quite disconcerting.

Consuming men in and around Glasgow, she comes across a man with neurofibromatosis, played by Adam Pearson, and while she treats him the same as all the men she's encountered, she decides to not send him to the blackness. This decisions marks the transgression from her detachment to her surroundings to her trying to understand and even enjoy what she encounters. She tries cake, even watches Tommy Cooper, and is shocked when she discovers what human men like to do with vagina's.

This sees her change from the predator to the prey, as now she becomes the target of the more nastier men of humankind, seeing her naivety as a thing to be manipulated. The gender stereotypes are flipped back again, and she suffers from the consequences of men's desire. The ending was truly shocking, and haunted me for a long while afterwards.

I would totally understand if you said this film was a bit impenetrable, but this is a film that tells its story through atmosphere and imagery. Jonathan Glazer has provided us with film that maybe a little hard to understand in parts, but speaks of moments that can effect all of us. Stylistically the film swings from dingy city-scape's to unromantic landscapes to the kind of craziness you see at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The excellent soundtrack composed by Mica Levi only goes to accentuate the uneasy feelings this film gives off. Surreal and disturbing, Under the Skin shows perfectly how it takes an alien to bring out the human.



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