Take a Drink: every time ScarJo asks for directions
Take a Drink: for every seduction
Take a Drink: for attempts at (and glimmers of) humanity
Take a Drink: for motorcycle riding
Do a Shot: for digestion
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Right from the beginning of Under the Skin, you know you’re in for something bizarre, and beautiful, and alien.
Stanley Kubrick counts as alien, right?
The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a literal maneater- an alien inhabiting a gorgeous woman’s body and luring men into her and her mute motorcycling partner’s (real-life motorcross pro Jeremy McWilliams) lair, where they are turned into fuel. When a deformed young man triggers something like pity in her, though, everything changes.
Jonathan Glazer’s newest film is essentially a two-hander between his stylish direction and Scarlett Johansson’s fearless performance. The story really is about as simple as it gets, and the dialogue is either subsumed to the visuals or captured guerrilla-style from non-actors on the Glasgow streets. Instead, Glazer’s vision, Daniel Landin’s stunning imagery, and Mica Levi’s off-kilter, haunting score create a mood and a world for Johansson to operate in.
Johansson delivers what may be career-best work here. Her character’s perspective is wholly alien, and she embodies that by carrying an expressionless, ruthless mien as her default expression, then lighting up into a not-quite-right facsimile of human emotion when her quarry is near.
Talk about a Black Widow, indeed.
Most will agree that this is a flawless performance, but it’s not just the much ballyhooed (I love I just got to use that) full-frontal nudity. It’s also beyond the scenes where she literally cruises Glasglow trying to pick up men. It’s fearless because she must strip away all of her humanity but her sexuality, then tentatively add some “human” characteristics like compassion, empathy, and vulnerability as her alien strives to understand us.
To tell the truth, though, it’s newcomer Adam Pearson who delivers the truly brave performance here. Pearson was born with the rare facial deformity neurofibromatosis, but by all accounts once the Changing Faces charity put him in touch with Glazer, he was instrumental in crafting what would be the strongest sequence of the film.
It’s this scene, where the alien goes from seeing just another prey to seeing a unique and pitiable entity not unlike herself, that the film fulfills its promise of examining what it is to be sentient, what it is to be man or woman, powerful or weak, what it is to be human.
If that level of earnestness and engagement could’ve been maintained throughout the film, it would’ve been a masterpiece. Often, though, Under the Skin seems to hold the viewer at arm’s length with its somewhat opaque, meandering approach. If the buildup had been more emotionally involving, the impact of the ending would have increased a hundredfold.
Under the Skin is a moody nightmare of a film with incredible visuals and vision and one of Scarlett Johansson’s few finest performances.