UNDER THE SKIN
This non-specific genre film- a little bit road movie, a dollop of science fiction and a soupcon of atmospheric chiller thriller- from Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson certainly lives up to its title by really getting under the skin. However I feel that how it does this is in a divisive fashion with some already proclaiming it an instant classic whilst others deride it as the Emperor’s new clothes. Certainly it is a film to make you think and as there is little in the way of information, conclusions have to be drawn up individually by each viewer rather than spelt out or made clear via the narrative.
The premise of the story is that an alien inhabiting a female human skin trawls the streets of Glasgow in a white van abducting single men with no obvious attachments. The alien as portrayed by Johansson is alluringly erotic with tousled dark hair, fake fur jacket, heels and figure hugging outfits. Her demeanour is detached but flirtatious and can switch from the sensual to violently aggressive without even the bat of an eyelash. In many ways she is the ultimate femme fatale.
Part of the genius of this film is setting it in Glasgow where Johansson’s character with her nuanced English tones set against the quotidian of the city’s daily life creates an odd juxtaposition where Glazer’s use of hidden cameras to capture the authenticity of a shopping centre or Celtic football match reveal the alien nature of such events to an outsider. Eventually the question of which of the two-Johansson or the humdrum and mundane- is more alienating becomes less and less clear.
Things become even less illuminating throughout this film as it is never explained why Johansson’s character is abducting these men nor is it ever revealed what becomes of them after she has seduced them and they find themselves sinking into a liquid black pool which resembles nothing so much as a molasses jelly-like substance. Where she has originally come from is also never broached and as to the bodyguard types on motorbikes, who shadow her movements, there is no clue as to either who they are or what their purpose is.
It is not all classic cinema on show here though. Similar in many ways to Nicolas Roeg’s ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ on many levels-not least Johansson’s alien which is probably the most affecting, iconic and seductive since David Bowie’s Thomas Jerome Newton in that film- but without the reasoning that film offered. We at least knew Newton’s intentions and motives but here we are left in the dark. Whilst this may work on some levels it is also frustrating on so many others and will allow the school of pretentious to co-opt it as their own with their clever-clever theories. Personally I found some scenes wholly arresting and brave whilst finding others indulgent and, dare I say it, boring.
It is these latter scenes which I feel prevent this film from being a bona fide classic or masterpiece but will afford it a cult status which may lend it longevity the universally acclaimed sometimes lose by being picked over too often. I am not sure this film would bear too much scrutiny as so little is explained but then again this might also be its main strength. See what I mean about it being divisive; at this moment I can’t even make up my own mind how I feel about it!