Words Emmaalouise Smith
Under the Skin tells the story of an alien embodying a female in the form of Scarlett Johansson, in Scotland. “What?!” Is exactly what I thought when I first heard about this film last year, and from watching it today, its exactly that. It’s not a wacky sci-fi flick, no sarcasm, no bad SFX, it’s simple and effective.
I’ve been disappointed by a lot of films that have been hyped lately, and British film at the moment really needs something like this. I’m sure I’m not the only filmgoer bored of ‘Gritty Britishness’, films set on council estates, with rough kids living their lives for richer kids to watch and feel nostalgic about. And as farfetched as it sounds, maybe this alien film could be the one to mix it all up a little bit? Recent releases I’ve been introduced to have not been produced to make an ‘experience’; they hold such a short lifespan that it seems some kind of effort to draw you in and shake you about a bit has gone amiss… But, Under the Skin really goes back to that aesthetic, the sound for instance is the best and most surreal piece of film-making I’ve had the chance to see on the big screen in a long time. The opening of Gravity held a statement saying “There is no sound in space”, and yet throughout the film I was treated like an idiot and told when to laugh, or cry through the various pieces of clearly marked sound-bites dotted around, but Under the Skin really goes for it. One scene in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) made me feel like my life had ended, like everything that makes me work as a human was just sucked right out. Sometimes you just need to feel something when you watch a film, that cinema experience, ‘makers seem to have forgotten.
Jonathan Glazer’s been referred as the new Kubrick (big shoes to fill) and I wouldn’t like to tag anyone with anything of the sort, but I just think people are shocked at this little film and kind of just can’t handle it. There seems to be a lot of referencing to film as an old-skool audio-visual medium, and not in a rip-off kind of way either, more new-wave with the guts to pull it off. So visually, there’s a lot to learn from the way the film has been put together.
Johansson as the ‘female’ protagonist does a great job as a kind of out of this world femme fatale, but in a completely naïve way, which really gets explored throughout. I just wanted to know what was going on behind her weird eyes, under that really bad hair-do, and beneath those typically typecast ‘normal’ clothes used as a disguise. Scotland seems more alien than you could ever imagine, or describe in words, but it works. The whole film is so abnormally/normal that it draws you into this world where first impressions count, where you’re seeing life almost like a child for the first time.