Film

Scarlett Johansson, Predator

The Amazing Under the Skin Shows You the Hell You Want to See

Scarlett Johansson, Predator

UNDER THE SKIN If you hate it, that's your loss.

You've seen this so many times in movies and television: A predator drives around in a nondescript car, sizing up potential victims of the opposite sex with a coolly appraising eye. Is this one gullible? Is this one lonely enough? Would anyone miss this one? In Under the Skin, the predator is Scarlett Johansson, buried deep in a huge brown fur coat and a black wig, and she's scouring the streets looking for young men to lure and kill. Her purposes are nefarious, but this isn't anything so simple or so banal as a gender-flipped serial-killer film. In fact, Under the Skin isn't like anything you've ever seen before. Director and co-screenwriter Jonathan Glazer isn't interested in relaying a traditional narrative, and those with low tolerance for repetition or abstraction will absolutely hate it.

That's their loss.

Glazer's third film after Sexy Beast and Birth is intentionally aggressive toward its viewers. Composer Mica Levi's score is filled with keening whines, jittery violins, and droning, mechanical noises hovering in the background. At least three times, the camera passes over scenes that can only be described as nightmarish—as in, scenes that can and will inspire nightmares—with something akin to Johansson's dispassionate eye. There is nudity, and sex, and even a sensual cake-eating scene, but none of it is pleasurable. The nakedness is that of the morgue, or the operating room, and the food is not so much spat out as rejected like a bad organ. Everything you see, from the rugged countryside of Scotland to the faces of unsuspecting extras, has something wrong with it. It occurs to you that maybe the flaw isn't in the thing you're looking at, but the way you're doing the looking. This is a film about watching, and the violence that watching can do.

Glazer has an unsettling tendency to put the thing you want to stare at directly in the dead center of the frame at all times: the glossy helmet of a motorcyclist; the imperceptibly twitching green of Johansson's iris; the fragile heads of potential victims as they walk down the street, being scouted without their knowledge. I can't recall the last time a director tried so hard to give the viewer exactly what they think they want to see, front and center. It's an unsettling feeling, even more so because Glazer dips the rest of the film in velvety blacks that swallow the objects of our attention whole, leaving an absolute void. Sometimes people sink into the darkness and then pop right out. Sometimes they disappear forever.

The novel Under the Skin is based on is science fiction, and the film and the book share a basic DNA. But Michel Faber's novel is a twisty and endlessly surprising journey through genre that toys with its readers' allegiances, while Glazer's film feels like a puzzle that doesn't want to be solved. Johansson does incredible work: With very few lines and directions that undoubtedly involve the word "less" at every opportunity—less action, less life, less empathy—she creates a character that guides us on a tourist's journey through hell and then just leaves us there to fend for ourselves.

The terrors that Glazer shows us pale in comparison to the ones we don't see. A potentially brutal attack is coolly sidestepped and then immediately forgotten; one character's salvation is snipped short offscreen. Under the Skin walks a fine balance between accusing your gaze of causing pain and reminding you that all you can do is watch, helplessly, as a chilly universe unfolds exactly as it had to. We're guilty and innocent, victim and aggressor at the same time. recommended

PSST! Check out The Stranger's New and Improved THINGS TO DO calendar.
It has a complete calendar of what's happening in Seattle's Film Scene.
 

Comments (12) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
Been looking forward to this movie for a while. Where/when is it playing?
Posted by werdswerf on April 9, 2014 at 10:52 AM · Report this
2

#1

Yahoo Movies says it opened April 4th but the nearest theater is in Hollywood, CA!

Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on April 11, 2014 at 2:55 PM · Report this
3

But speaking of women, movies and sex, this is the best fact I've acquired all day:

What Kind of Porn Turns Women On?

A 2008 study found that women showed signs of arousal watching pretty much anything: masturbation, straight sex, girl-on-girl, guy-on-guy, bonobo chimps, everything — except pictures of naked men, which did not float a woman’s boat.


http://www.alternet.org/gender/what-kind…

Now, can someone tell that to the guy who is always taking his shirt off. No one cares. No one female that is.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on April 11, 2014 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Tracy 4
Ohhh. I just read Faber's novel last week. It was given by a friend and ignored on my shelf for about a year. i had NO IDEA what I was getting into, but I was sucked into the world.

Film sounds really interesting, too. Also Paul, appreciate your care in providing an interesting and informative review without giving any spoilers. Well done.
Posted by Tracy on April 11, 2014 at 4:03 PM · Report this
James McDaniel 5
@3
Here is some more info on that research from the New York Times, with an even more interesting result:

"The participants were also given a keypad so that they could rate how aroused they felt. ...for the male participants, the subjective ratings on the keypad matched the readings of the plethysmograph. The men’s minds and genitals were in agreement.

All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly...as they watched the apes. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazi…
Posted by James McDaniel http://facebook.com/JamesMcDanielPhotos on April 11, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 6
I saw it earlier tonight. In my defense I was extremely tired, but I confess I was confused throughout. There were a lot of things I dug about it but I was lost for most of it. My only advice is don't go unless you can give it more attention than I was able to give it. If anything made sense, I was too sleepy to catch it.
Posted by mr. herriman on April 12, 2014 at 3:21 AM · Report this
seattlegrrrl 7
@3 and 5: I just read in (insert second-hand website here) that hetero men are secretly more turned on by gay porn than straight porn.

Yeah, "they" did a study. So it MUST be true, right? 'Cos only true things get published and re-published on the web.
Posted by seattlegrrrl http:// on April 12, 2014 at 8:10 AM · Report this
levide 8
This film is just flat-out incredible. And a great audience experience (people were actively hostile, the guy yelling "Fuckin' *art*!" being especially amusing). Haven't been as gobsmacked by a picture in some time.
Posted by levide on April 13, 2014 at 10:13 AM · Report this
9
It was pretty awesome. Some parts a little hard to follow, but to enjoy it just let it draw you in. Creepiest serial killer murder scenes ever. Pretty much blood free too.

I doubt it will play in Kent.
Posted by wl on April 13, 2014 at 9:23 PM · Report this
10
Absorbing and fucking creepy.
Posted by Amanda on April 19, 2014 at 4:37 PM · Report this
Steve French 11
Never thought I'd say this, but Scotland seems like a terrifying hellscape.

The scene with the deformed guy was incredible and I am going to go buy the soundtrack ASAP. Just a psychotically addictive and strange flick. Loved it.
Posted by Steve French on April 19, 2014 at 8:12 PM · Report this
12
Under the skin is a laconic, visual sci-fi poem. For me, it's one of those interesting films that left virtually no impression with me whatsoever. It's deliberately cryptic that it evokes no emotional resonance.

While it's one of the most unique films I've ever seen, it's so impenetrable that it doesn't really stay with you. It's a structurally creative exercise that never draws you in.
Posted by Yeti1971 on April 30, 2014 at 11:03 PM · Report this

Add a comment