Under The Skin Review
I want to say the following with the utmost sincerity, Scarlett Johansson has really reshaped her career for the better over the last three or so years. She is finally becoming a talent to look for each year, and I never would have thought I’d ever put “raw acting talent” in the same sentence as “Scarlett Johansson.” Oh sure, she’s a pretty face, but there are tons of pretty faces in Hollywood. Just because there is plenty of pretty to go around doesn’t automatically mean an actress is talented. Recently, it seems Johansson is beginning to break the boundaries of her range, reinventing her career with ease. Go watch “Iron Man 2,” or “We Bought A Zoo,” or “The Avengers,” or “Don Jon,” or “Her” or “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” or “Chef.” There may be an aura of sex symbol tied to many of those roles, but there is no doubt that she trying different things. Even not everything lands (like “Lucy” or “Hitchcock”), but the fact that she’s trying makes every effort worth it.
This brings us to “Under the Skin” something I don’t know if I have fully processed yet. This is as experimental as Johansson has ever received and this film will end up being unlike anything else in her career. Heck, “Under the Skin” probably won’t be like any other film you see the rest of the year. I will flat-out say that “Under the Skin” will not be everybody’s cup of tie. It is a big, weird, science-fiction film. There are grand moments of absolutely no dialogue. The film’s music composed by Mica Levi is haunting and bone-chilling. Most of all, we are seeing Johansson behave onscreen in a way we have never seen, easily putting the audience on edge.
The film’s opening is one of the most striking images I have seen in a film recently. The screen is completely black, and in the middle of the screen, a small light becomes brighter and brighter. Levi’s effective music can be heard in the background and it seems a small dot of some kind is moving through some kind of metallic hole. Also in the background, we can hear a distinct voice muttering seemingly random words. As we finally see the formation of an eyeball, the screen turns white and reveals the film’s title. It is a scene that seems incredibly reminiscent of the science fiction films from the 1970’s. The slow-burn tactics used in the scene make it that much more effective. It was a great way to open a film, a weird way to open a film, and definitely a haunting way to open a film. But we are just getting started.
Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless woman and in the beginning of the film, we see a man on a motorcycle take a body out the ditch. Then he somehow transports the body to Johansson who strips the body of its clothes and puts them on. Again, the feeling of the imagery is very classic and very sci/fi. The rest of the film is Johansson driving around in a big truck, seducing men and capturing them for…well…there is no way to really complete that sentence. “Under the Skin” is a “depends on the viewer” movie. There is nothing that is set in stone; there is nothing that is explained in a complete or coherent manner. The film, directed by Jonathon Glazer, was based on a novel by Michel Faber. It seems you will probably learn more about what it is Johansson is up to if you read Faber’s book. There are no easy explanations for anything here, and I know that will frustrate some viewers. I know many people that want to understand every step of the journey through a movie, some people never want to be challenged, and they never want to play any sort of mind game. That is absolutely normal and nothing to be ashamed of. I will recommend skipping this, as it is a more adventurous movie.
Not only that, but there are moments in this film that are just plain bleak. Easily the most jetblack moment involves a baby on a beach, something I’ll have hard time getting out of my head. This is easily a different take on the “alien invasion” movie. If you like cool-looking aliens, city destruction and aerial fights, that isn’t what “Under the Skin” is doing, “Under the Skin” uses a far more disturbing backdrop, expertly making the landscape of Scotland to a horrific advantage. The performance by Johansson is indeed incredible. As I stated above, this is a real range-test she commits to and she does outstanding work. This role doesn’t even come close to anything she’s done in the past and you won’t believe it’s her.
If you like experimental movies and if you don’t mind watching a film a couple of times just to get it, then I highly recommend “Under the Skin.” I know I will be buying this movie as soon as possible, just to investigate every frame of every scene, trying to piece this movie together. If for any reason, check it out for Johansson, and relish in the fact that she is putting some serious stock in career choices now.
FINAL GRADE: A-