Under the Skin

This is a very hard film to review, as it is one that really stops you in your tracks, or, as several viewers thought, it was just awful. Strangely, though many in the audience said they hated it, nobody walked out, which is unusual.

It is mostly Scarlett Johansen as an alien in human skin, trawling the dark streets of Glasgow in search of men on their own, and seducing them into a fate that I don’t pretend to understand, but it is lethal.

The music – or rather, soundscape – is briliantly strange, like badly received radio, scratching and screeching. Totally wierd and scary.

Johansen doesn’t say much, often walks like a robot in her stolen clothes, but is utterly charmng to her victims, who seem to sleep walk into their terrible fates. We never know where she comes from, what her role is, what she is thinking, or even if she knows what she is doing to these men. And there is a very angry man who rides a motorbike at high speed and seems to follow her round cleaning up her mess. She is completely unreadable, and as she loses whatever the plot she has, abandons her van to wander in the highlands, in the rain and her own unpleasant fate. She turns from being some femme fatale to a victim of whatever brought her to earth.

But whilst reviewers seem to see her as a ruthless killer, her confusion over what her body is and does, her sense of being lost at the end makes me wonder if she is the servant of the biker, rather than the other way round. Does she turn from being a cold blooded killer to one full of guilt, or is she someone following orders who comes to realise the harm she is doing?

I haven’t a clue. Most of this film is totally beyond me, and that’s why I loved it, if love is not an imappropriate word in this context.  I am so sick of watching films where everything is explained and the plots so predictable you can tell what’s going to happen by watching the time. This is a rarety in giving us a character about whom we know nothing. There is no humanity to her, no backstory, but a lot of horrific stuff. This film has some pretty horrible stuff in it, but it is also about what aliens might be – we tend to see them as either cuddly cartoon critters or superior creatures out to kill us. Here we have the harm, but we cannot read what is going on, and I think that  makes it so enrossing. If you look at how many disputes are happening now between us humans which are largely due to an inability to communicate, how on earth could we understand extra terrestrials? I think the only film I know that comes close to this is Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, but that goes for the comedy end, though has a far higher body count to it. I have heard this film called exploitative, and I can see why, but this is not about seduction as we understand it because the alien doesn’t seem to know what her seduction or entrapment leads to in humans.

I think it is a work of genius, a truly traumatic experience, and definitely not for the faint hearted, but it takes cinema and ideas of what we are as humans into a completely new place. And it shows that Scarlett Johansson really has some serious acting chops, if anyone ever doubted that.


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