6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This is a film that has taken nearly 10 years for Director Jonathan Glazer to bring to the big screen, and had Glazer and his crew guerrilla filming north of the Scottish border. Adapted from Michel Faber's novel of the same name, the film discards virtually all of the book's `landscape' and the irony of commercial farming. The story of Scarlett Johansson's extra-terrestrial entity begins with an enigmatic "birth" sequence from another dimension or other-world. There are faint glimmers of speech hummed through a distorted fog of sound. Then vocalizations repeat and develop and it becomes clear that they're consonants, then syllabic sounds, and finally whole words. The manner in which these enunciations acquiesce into speech is matched by sight of an abstract image of light and a circular shape, which ultimately - in the most intangible way - then reveal a human eye.
The alien is then transported to Scotland's grey, rainy streets of what appears to be Glasgow and it - she - has a minder or a `familiar' for back-up support, he wears made-to-measure leathers and rides a R1 Yamaha motorbike. He acquires for her a dead human girl salvaged from the roadside. Or perhaps this is another expired alien whose shape is being reused? Whatever the case may be, our alien is soon up and running in her white Mercedes Sprint Transit - she then prowls the Highlands Lowlands. There is succinct plainspoken interconnectivity between Johansson and men who think she's just a lost lass from South of the border. She comes over as sultry and tempting, with her innocent disarming smile that could be read as being coquettish. However, the alien has one single minded purpose, to sexually entice wide-eyed males who can't trust to their good luck and are quite right not to do so. A film that at times emulates a style of documentary filmmaking; where it combines improvisation, with the use of the camera to expose truth or highlight subjects concealed behind crude realism.
The only sign that the alien is leading men to be harvested for nourishment (but for who or what we are never told) is in an unnerving sequence that shows the sufferers of her seduction. For me Johansson is nothing short of hypnotic in the role as the alien and plays it so very well. There is so little vocal narrative; there are snatches of isolated dialogue. Yet there is a discernible narrative to follow - we see this through the eyes of the alien and a montage of ominous images. The scenes where her would be victims are taken (and finally processed and dispatched into their bare constituents) are astonishing and chilling. All the buildings she uses, as portals to her lair, are derelict and in decay - and yet her unwitting victims follow her into the black 'inky' void. Then of course is the film's extraordinary score, by Mica Levi, which furnishes our predatory alien with her three-note Siren's call. Here then is a real marriage between Levi's score and celluloid. For me this is a captivating film, but a divisive film, that is not for everyone's tastes as you either love it or hate it.
149 of 176 people found the following review helpful
on 1 April 2014
Under The Skin
Imagine that you condensed the plot of a novel down to a single sentence.
Now ignore half of that sentence and make a film of the result.
This seems to have part of the ten year creative process in turning Michel Faber’s novel into Jonathan Glazer’s film.
The resulting film is both haunting and beautiful, contrasting the grit and reality of Glasgow with the isolated emptiness of the Scottish countryside and a clinical hyper-stylised ‘alien’ lair.
The lair scenes and the opening sequence, especially, are reminiscent of Kubrick’s interpretation of Arthur C Clarke’s ‘2001’ whilst the overall feeling is similar to David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, the awkward outsider who struggles to understand this human world.
Whilst much has been made of the use of real people as victims it’s Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of the seductress, Laura, hunting down lonely men for unspeakable reasons that will stay with the viewer, her understated beauty and unease perfect for the character of Laura but so different from the novel’s awkward, surgically deformed protagonist Isserley.
Book and film stand apart, and the good news is that experiencing neither would affect the enjoyment of the other so different are the storylines but I can’t help thinking that the film lacked a lot in explanation although it more than made up for this with style.
If anything the book is probably darker than the film condemning everything from big business to factory farming and exploring the idea of class through an alien culture. The film touches on none of these themes and the viewer could easily be left wondering what it was all about.
Undoubtedly a masterpiece of the cinematic art, thought provoking and disturbing, ‘Under The Skin’ won’t trouble any box office charts but it will become a cult favourite.
If you’re intrigued enough by the film reading the book would explain a lot, just don’t expect to recognise too much of the story between it’s pages.
I had heard about the basic essentials of this film from a few reviews elsewhere which intrigued me enough to contemplate a viewing; I've just watched it on Blu-ray and was struck by how 'minimalist', unusual, stark, original and creepy it was.
As much is filmed on handheld/hidden cameras, I'm not sure how much of an advantage seeing it in HD offers BUT do feel that I gained from the soundtrack being of the DTS-HD Master Audio variety as it is very atmospheric.
Whilst I don't think there's much harm in knowing the basics of the plot I DO feel that any extra embellishment is harmful to the first-time viewing experience, so here's just the first sentence of the Amazon description (as I after that I think it reveals too much) :
'An alien entity inhabits the earthly form of a seductive young woman who combs the Scottish highways in search of the human prey it is here to plunder.'
When you watch this film, it soon becomes obvious that dialogue is not a major element of it - there is probably less said by the characters in this film than your average 30min TV soap, meaning that more time is spent on lingering shots and, more pertinently, less time (none actually !) explaining what is going on or who is who etc.
- and that is the main strength of the plot, since whilst I think that if you pay even a modicum of attention you will grasp what is going on (and occasionally even why things occur as they do !), there is scope for your imagination to run riot on the specifics and, most importantly, the overall 'premise'.
The main review I heard beforehand (courtesy of Mark Kermode) suggested less significance to the opening scenes and the role of a specific character, so as I think I've grasped their full meaning (eg Kermode seems to have missed elements of the opening scene which I believe are crucial to the plot) I'll give my take on them at the base of this after the horizontal lines (separated as they contain spoilers).
This film didn't have a big budget, so aside from the occasional special-effects don't expect too much in the way of lavish production-values. A lot of the 'action' occurs in a vehicle, with whatever remains being on-location on the streets of Glasgow/rural Scotland or in a few specific buildings/houses.
The cinematography is also similarly 'basic', since (as mentioned earlier) much is filmed on handheld/hidden cameras AND a lot occurs either at night or in dark surroundings.
Whatever dialogue occurs is either spontaneous (many of the cast are non-professional actors and I understand that the hidden-cameras were used as some were actual encounters, with the participant later giving their consent to their encounter featuring in the film) or sporadic in nature and absolutely nothing is explained - even when something clearly has happened you cannot be sure precisely what has happened, you just see characters actions or reactions which again are not that 'forthcoming'.
The alien (or should I say, one of the aliens ?) in the film is played to great effect by Scarlett Johansson (and if you've been wanting to see her naked then this is the film for you !). Very few of the other characters feature for very long or, if they do, we obviously learn little about them.. It's a bit like the alien character in the films 'Predator' or 'Species' for example....
So, aside from the lead character I think hat the musical soundtrack is the next main factor in this film - with the term 'music' being a bit misleading as it is usually an unusual blend of background 'noises' and/or electronic 'sounds' of one kind or another - not original but certainly bizarre ....
The 'horror' is not very graphic BUT it is very effective and really quite creepy. The often bizarre way things develop or are 'displayed' creates a marvellous opportunity for you to contemplate what is really 'going on'.
On Blu-ray things look as good as that can be considering the recording mediums and lighting conditions. So, not everything is pin-sharp but all is certainly clear and free of artefacts - I think that grain is often visible. The soundtrack definitely benefits from being HD, as it allows the often very atmospheric, occasionally subdued, nature of it to resonate around you to enhance the unusual/creepy events.
Aside from that creepy nature and the delicious 'mystery', the viewing experience is not that eventful; there are 'shocks' to be had, but don't expect big booming sound-effects or dramatic camera usage to emphasise them - you watch, experience and contemplate (well I did !)...
As a result, for me, this is one of those films that provokes repeat-viewing to maybe not learn anything new but certainly re-live the unsettling experience !
In the opening scene we see images which suggest to me that the alien is making the journey across space to earth; on that journey time is spent by the alien learning how to speak English (we see various images BUT the sound is just as relevant - I believe it features the alien repeating English-language pronunciations like most people do when learning a new language orally.
I believe that the motorcycle riders are either human' or alien 'handlers', who monitor the progress of the alien on earth and it's 'maturity' - largely through seeing how the eyes of the alien develop.
I'm not sure if we ever see the alien doing anything other than touring Glasgow to select and pick-up prey ie I don't think that we ever see her 'information-gathering', or the like for any other purpose.
I also think that the black 'soup' into which they prey are submerged is a food source for the alien, laced with 'dissolved' human bodies. I've seen mention of the soup BUT no reference to what occurs after a human is dissolved in it, where we then see part of the enriched soup being channelled somewhere - feeding time for the alien...?
As a result, and as the alien dies prematurely, we never discover if there is a reason for her being on earth other than to feed....
52 of 67 people found the following review helpful
This is one of those films where I am struggling to give it a star rating. On one hand it could be a 2 star film, but easily it could be a 4 star film. It may even be a 5 star film. I’ve never experienced a film so haunting, so simple but so surreal and thoughtful in its narrative and cinematography that it becomes engrossing and uncomfortable to watch at the same time.
Scarlett Johansson simply carries the film (much like Tom Hardy did recently in another character driven film ‘Locke’), and you can’t take your eyes off her. She has little dialogue and conveys her emotion via her physical appearance. She is an actress capable of entertaining masses in action blockbusters or dreamy rom-coms but proving her also a grounded understanding of what it means to strip away the excess of Hollywood escapism and portray one of the most complex, realistic-cum-fantastical and haunting characters in her career to date. Her natural beauty is also something you can’t fail to admire, and that plays to her strength as a seductive being out for more sinister goals. She takes us on an emotional journey through a range of emotions and ultimately we can’t fail to finally warm to her, feel compassion for her and understand her.
Saying that, the supporting cast of largely unknown UK faces (bar possibly pro motorcyclist Jeremy McWilliams) add to the look and feel of this film greatly, giving it lots of authenticity. It plays out almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary on the streets of Scotland, with improvised dialogue between the actors and Johansson for a very natural process of seduction. They are brave actors who take on full frontal nudity in nightmarish situations and they help make Johansson’s character all the more mysterious as the fish out of water in Scotland.
It’s a very beautiful film to watch with long, lingering shots across Scotland using everything from the natural surroundings of the coastlines and dense forests to the heavy rain and thick fog across the Highlands. I hate the term “arty” describing film, but I guess this is what ‘Under The Skin’ really is; an art film. It plays out like a visual interpretation of the human psyche and a dreamy world we live in, fuelled by the mystery surrounding Johansson and McWilliams and their relationship. Extreme close-ups, pulled back sweeping shots, high and low angles all help add to the intrusive, semi-erotic and at times voyeuristic feel to this film. We linger on shots of naked bodies, plump lips, curvaceous hips and smokey eyes, all tinged with a sense of that predatory allure that entices us in as the audience as much as the men adoring Johansson’s semi-naked body before them.
Aided by a sparse but very effective soundtrack that serves as a very un-nerving and tense companion to the uncertainty of the scenes played out, this may be difficult to watch in places where the very things that would make us human are taken away before our very eyes in brutal moments that shows the detachment of Johansson’s character to the rest of humanity. The scene on the beach a third in was one of the most harrowing and uncomfortable sequences I’ve seen on film for a very, very long time and it moved me like nothing else has before in film; it was real, it was upsetting and it was horrific. And there was nothing I could do about it except watch though watery eyes. The finale is also tragic to see, not saying what happens or involving who, but it will leave you feeling helpless and seeking a reassuring conversation or hug from someone close to you to remind yourself you’re not alone out there in that big, wide scary world.
While not to everyone’s taste for what they may expect with a marketed sci-fi film starting The Black Widow herself, full of action, sex, fantastical elements and coarse language, it’s not. It’s totally the opposite. Everything here is tastefully done, steadily paced and lots of elements are lingered on; never rushed. This needs to have your full attention and your mind open to everything and anything. The plot is very simple when you get under the skin (thank you) of the film itself, it is just presented in a very clever, beautiful and haunting way that is totally unique and not comparable to anything else I’ve seen recently.
Writing this, it's a 4 star review I think. It needs another viewing to take it all in again, and it's impossible to compare this to other 4-star reviews I've made, or 5-star reviews that may not be "better" to others. This is a 4-star review of one film alone - 'Under The Skin' with no comparison to anything else out there. It's impossible to compare it.
50 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2014
Have rarely seen a film that divided audiences like this one. For me it was irresistable, haunting, beautiful, tender, dark, eerie, sharp and deliciously under-explained.
In the days before videos and DVDs etc. when the only way to see a film again was to go back to the cinema for a second look, I occasionally did that. I haven't done it for 20 years but this film so intrigued me that I actually went back to the cinema two days after first seeing it to watch it all over again. Guess what? It was even better the second time. I'll be buying the DVD because I suspect it might be even better the third time. It's like nothing else you've ever seen but as I touchstone I'd say that if you thought Let The Right On In was a masterpiece, I did, then you'll love this.
30 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2014
Quite often major hollywood actors have a presence that eclipses any character they are asked to play.
Marilyn Monroe could never escape it, although tried with some success in 'Bus Stop. 'Robert De Niro's career defining films were all about a character far more interesting than the actor, films such as 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull'.
Scarlett Johanssen hadn't had her career defining role, a film in which she could transform into something else, completely immersed and unreconisable from the actress Scarlett Johanssen. Not until 'Under the Skin', a film which polarized critics and audiences alike, refusing to conform to the movie making syllabus.
As Scarlett's alien eventually grows into 'her' skin and surroundings, humanity begins to take an effect on 'her' and we watch like a fly as 'her' story unfolds. Never do we see Scarlett Johanssen, the performance is so far removed that it is easy to see 'her' as an alien and not the actress.
What a fanastic piece of cinema. So understated, not concerned with plot (the destroyer of many a film), you have to see it before you die, it's that good.
Why is watching an alien drive a transit van so captivating? Well if that's all you get from it then i suggest you go and watch the next avengers movie, much easier, no brainer.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2014
Well this is a tough one to review, an atmospheric but largely plotless sci-fi/drama that's definitely not going to be everyone's cup of tea.
Remember the 90's sci-fi slasher pic Species? This is kind of the art house version of that flick. Scarlett Johanssen plays an alien in human form who is driving and drifting through the streets of Glasgow (I think) looking to entice male companions back to her mysterious, dilapidated house. What happens to these fellas from there is kind of unclear although one memorable, eerie, underwater sequence gives us a few clues. Scarlett has an apparent helper or supervisor following her at a distance on motorbike, who occasionally gets involved in proceedings. Plot wise, that's about it.
It took me a while to get into it and accept the fact that not a great deal actually happens but it did gradually engage me. Johanssens performance is distant and restrained but perfect for the role as more of a watcher of human behaviour. We see through her eyes some of the best and worst of human behaviour as she moves through a series of offbeat encounters before things take a slight turn in the latter stages as she goes a little off mission.
Director Jonathan Glazer creates a strange, eerie atmosphere in general, enhanced by the almost constant, unsettling score which hums and beats along in the background. There's also some cracking out of town scenery in the second half if that floats your boat.
I'm a sucker for a bit of sci-fi, even the slow paced, moody type on offer here so I found much to enjoy in the end. There's no easy answers to the films many questions though and one glance at the star ratings on here show it's very much a marmite experience.
22 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2014
To rabbit on about "genius" etc. is all a bit po-faced and Guardian reader. But I had been waiting to see this for about 3 years, having thought director's previous film Birth was a unique and extraordinary experience. UTS repeats the trick. The choices the director and his collaborators have made are wholly inspiring: first dispense with most of the book (hurrah - I loved the book but this is a film, not a book, they really are two different mediums); second the whole real-life scenarios/ real-time/improv nature gives it a look utterly unlike any film out there. I found that the risks involved in Glazer's approach were completely thrilling.The relatively slow pace becomes hallucinatory - if you allow it too. And we're not talking Bela Tarr territory here, UTS still manages to pack in a fair bit of narrative in it's running time. The nightclub scene alone is just mind-boggling. Amazing soundtrack. I paid to see this twice at the cinema, and nothing in the last year or two have come close to the reward I got from these viewings - second time was better. My personal film of the decade so far.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2015
Not many films can get away with having one main character who is never developed, and a plot that virtually goes nowhere, yet is still better than the majority of films that come out every week. You know if you’re going to like Under the Skin right from the fantastic trippy opening which mixes a haunting atonal score with long takes of beautiful images, which you don’t quite know what they are. From that wonderful Lynchian opening, I knew that this was going to be the film for me, and it was.
Under the Skin is a film that begs to be seen on a big screen with loud surround sound. It’s a full on sensory experience which combines dreamlike visuals with a phenomenal atmospheric soundtrack. I was oddly gripped as Scarlett (the unnamed alien) drove around aimlessly, chatting to strange Scottish men and eventually leading them to… Well… I don’t really know what!
One of the great things about Under the Skin is its ambiguity. Nothing is ever explained, which is why a hugely eerie and unsettling atmosphere is maintained throughout. We’re not even explicitly told that Scarlett is an alien! We don’t know what she’s leading these men to, or how she does it and we’re also never told who this motorcyclist following Scarlett is. It all makes for a very haunting and gripping experience, although it may infuriate others.
The film is at its best when it’s at its most surreal. These are the scenes where Scarlett leads the men to an incredibly dreamlike black canvas. I won’t describe what happens here, all I’ll say is that it’s absorbing to watch. Some of the scenes that take place here reminded me of something from David Lynch’s masterpiece, Eraserhead. The use of sound here is also very creative and arresting. A sharp unexpected stinging sound almost had me jumping out of my seat!
Scarlett Johansson is also absolutely brilliant here. Her British accent is flawless, and she gives off an air of mystery, power and beauty. She’s the sexiest alien since the queen in Aliens. The scenes where she’s talking to the various male strangers are oddly gripping. They also feel hyper-realistic because I’m told that many of them were men who were being filmed covertly.
The film is impeccably directed. It is definitely reminiscent of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and (more recently) Nicholas Winding-Refn. I got a very strong Only God Forgives vibe throughout actually, because it has the similar dreamlike quality and mesmerising slow pace and directing. Under the Skin is definitely not for everyone though. If you’re not used to these slow arty films (or just hate them altogether) then you’re going to find it a very tough, boring slog indeed. Fans of Lynch and surreal dreamlike films (like me!) are going to find much to like though.
Whilst the final third of Under the Skin does falter a little bit, the first two thirds are unbelievably strong and its final moments are full of haunting and disturbing imagery which will have your mind racing afterwards. It’s a master-class in the power and effectiveness of surrealistic imagery and sound. It’s a film which I lost myself into, and couldn’t help but be gripped by its enigmatic strangeness. It’s a shame that not many people will get the chance to see this at the cinema, because it’s where it is going to have its biggest impact. Nevertheless, it’s still an unmissable experience which you must seek out immediately. Just be sure to watch it in complete darkness with the sound turned way up.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2015
Don't expect this movie to be like Scarlett Johansson's other films, it's the reason my wife didn't like this. With its art house feel, this film delivers something very unconventional and intensely strange. If you expect action and gory horror, you will certainly be disappointed. But maybe you will end up hypnotised by the eerie world Scarlett Johansson traverses. The gritty, bleak environment feels like a mixture of grim reality and shadowy nightmare. At times it feels like a surreal dream you want to wake up from, but one that is so compulsive, you can't resist continuing. Under the Skin, the first film by Jonathan Glazer after a nine-year hiatus following the release of Birth (2004), is a film certain to alienate audiences. More concerned with mood and atmosphere than conventional storytelling, Skin excises superfluous (or, for that matter, most if not all) exposition and dialogue, as director Glazer is more intent on visualizing the story rather than merely telling it explicitly, passing the complexity of his tale to the audience to piece together. The stylized, eerie, and hypnotic Under the Skin was cleverly conceived in order to grab our senses, proving Jonathan Glazer as a filmmaker to follow, and giving Johansson an opportunity to shine in another memorable performance. A great film and apart from the Scottish accent, which sometimes makes the dialogues very difficult to understand was unique and beautifully shot and the musical score was amazing. The distinguished plot and its exquisite execution make “Under the Skin” a modern sci-fi masterwork to watch and rewatch again!