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Video Reviews

Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Cast
Scarlett Johansson
Director
Jonathan Glazer (Birth, Sexy Beast)
Distributor
A24
In Theaters
April 4, 2014
On Video
July 15, 2014
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
Under the Skin

Under the Skin

The film wants to be about what's under the skin, but for most viewers it'll never get beyond what's not covering it.

When she's alone, she seems to be staring blankly ahead, but she's scanning the streets for the likely sort. They shouldn't have anyone with them or look like they're going any place in a hurry. Often, as she cruises slowly by in her nondescript white van, she can catch a glint in his eye that tells her that this one might be a prime candidate. It's an empty glaze, of sorts. A randomness.

That's when she pulls to the curb.

That's also when she seems to come fully to life. She knows her job. The pretty human girl with dark hair, a full figure and a ready smile. She rolls down the window and leans over. And the lonely guy always draws near.

She needs directions, she says, or she's having car trouble, or she just got turned around in this big strange Scottish town. Are you alone? Going someplace? Is anyone waiting for you? Perhaps you could hop in the van and show me the way?

His face lights up. He thinks he's hit it lucky. She's a knock-out, after all. Wait till he tells his friends about this later!

Later, of course, never comes. She knows her job.

My, you're a cutie. What strong hands you have. Look at those eyes. Do you have a girlfriend? Do you fancy a drink? Thank you so much for your help. My place is just up there if you want to step in for a spell.

It's pretty dark inside. She walks slowly in front of him. Just enough light for him to see that this beautiful woman is piece-by-piece shedding her clothes.

He's hers now.

She dresses and goes back to the van. Staring vacantly ahead. Doing this job that she knows so well.

Lately, however, she's been … feeling something. It's a niggling little emotion that she can't quite define. She'll catch her own blank stare in the van's mirror. And she'll stop to look at her strange human face for just a moment.

Positive Elements

As that undefined and never spoken-about feeling continues to grow in this unnamed alien, we see it shift her actions in subtle ways. The most obvious veer from her normal routine happens when she encounters a young man deformed by neurofibromatosis. She shows him a kindness—letting him touch a woman's face for what is apparently the first time in his life. She even sets him free later, unlike all those other men.

After that, this woman who's not a woman walks away from her assigned job and wanders aimlessly—repeatedly impacted by the random acts of kindness shown her as different humans offer her help or express concern for her. A man takes her in, giving her a coat, shelter and food.

We also witness a man running to the aid of a couple being pulled out to sea by a strong riptide.

Sexual Content

Somewhat shrouded by deep shadows, we see several people fully nude in a number of scenes. The naked alien removes the clothes from a female corpse and dresses herself. She examines her naked form in front of a full-length mirror. We see the interplanetary interloper kissing and caressing a man; neither are wearing clothes on their lower bodies. (His explicit sexual act is halted by her alien incomprehension of what he's doing.)

A man runs naked through a field at night. (He's seen from the front and back.) Several men are drawn into the aliens' dark lair, where she draws them into a deep, glossy pool of sorts. Walking backwards, either in panties and a bra or completely nude, she leads the men into her trap, and we watch them sink into the black "floor" until they disappear. (The men have removed every stitch of clothing by this point.)

Violent Content

The camera eventually shows us what happens inside that pool, or under that floor, whichever way you want to look at it: Submerged in some strange liquid, we see all the internal substance of a man being sucked away leaving only an empty skin. A stream of what appears to be blood and ground-up organs are sucked through a small slot.

The aforementioned husband and wife who are struggling in the strong ocean undertow drown, while the swimmer who tries to save them is thumped on the head with a large rock by the alien predator and dragged away. The couples' infant is left screaming, alone on the beach.

The alien woman is attacked by a human rapist. He throws her down and tears off pieces of her clothing. In the process he rips open her skin—revealing onyx-colored alien epidermis beneath. Startled, he runs away—then returns to douse her with fuel and set her aflame.

A man carries a female corpse up from a ravine.

Crude or Profane Language

None. (At least not that will be immediately obvious to American ears.)

Drug and Alcohol Content

Several people smoke cigarettes.

Other Negative Elements

When the alien tries to eat human food, she gags and spits it back out on the plate.

Conclusion

Scarlett Johansson is the bait. In oh so many ways.

In Under the Skin's deliberately opaque and expressionistically filmed storyline (loosely based on Michel Faber's 2000 novel) the actress plays an alien who dons a human persona. In black wig and blood-red lipstick this pretty cosmic spinner lures unsuspecting men on the streets of Glasgow. The lonelier souls end up in her deadly pool where they're harvested for their potential as food stuffs.

Reports also circulated, however, that in the course of filming, Johansson drew a number of unwitting non-actors into her movie web. The thick-accented and unsuspecting Jacks stepped into her van after she fed them a few ad-libbed lines in a British brogue. Some even then agreed to strip off their clothes to walk into that glossy pool.

Now that the film's finished and available for viewing, Johansson is surely still the main enticement that will draw the lion's share of moviegoers to see this odd sci-fi abstraction. And most will likely leave an hour and a half later feeling just as glazed-over and lost as those naked Scotsmen look onscreen.

So I will only say this once for all you Scarlett fans: This is not a Captain America movie.

This is a slow, surreal dreamscape composed of abstract visuals, long, unmoving close-ups and intrusive images of shadow-shrouded nakedness. It's the kind of project that hard-core film critics and jaded English Lit majors seem to love because they can assign nearly any meaning they want to what they've seen onscreen.

Is it a metaphorical meditation on loneliness?

A portrait of outcasts and alienation?

A study of the human condition as contrasted with an alien foil?

A violent gender reversal of the modern rape culture?

A cautionary examination of woman as both sexual predator and prey?


Yes. Maybe.

But it's definitely all about the bait.

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