Jonathan Glazer claims it took him the best part of a decade to craft this dark, unsettling feature, and the result is a distorted, bizarre universe that leaves us questioning our very existence and purpose.
Dressed in fake fur, clunky old boots and worn jeans, a stripped-down, messed up and extraterrestrial Scartlett Johansson stars in Under The Skin. Her part is a female sexual predator out to emasculate the men who wander the streets of Glasgow alone after hours. Never before seen like this, the Hollywood actress proves her worth as a serious artist by going above and beyond expectations in this art-house production.
Glazer’s use of emptiness and space
Stylistically, Under The Skin is a terrifying visual insight into Glazer’s mind and his interpretation of the novel of the same name. An opening scene of geometric block shapes floating through what appears to be space, and a close-up shot of an eyeball that oddly resembles 2001’s HAL 9000, sets the tone for the rest of the film. Add in Mica Levi’s tense, other-worldly soundtrack and you have a recipe for immediate alienation.
As a motorbike drives by in one of the introductory scenes, we see only the lights hover over the winding road, hinting to us that we may be dealing with some alien-like foreign being. We soon see that we’re not in some far-out world, but our world; Glasgow to be exact.
As the horrifically seductive Scartlett Johansson rattles through the streets of the Scottish city in a white Transit van, she begins to prey on vulnerable and lonely men, offering them free rides to their destination. Glazer uses real shots of the city’s streets, showing Glaswegians chatting to each other, smoking, texting, eating on the go and generically giving off a documentary-esque feeling of verisimilitude. Layered over with after effects of blurry lenses, out of focus shots and a haunting score, this style is anything but mundane.
An echo of our loneliness on planet Earth
The type of characters our fragmented femme fatale picks up in her white van, are single, persuadable men with nothing better to do and no family or friends to go home to. A pattern soon follows as we learn that our leading lady is taking these men back to an undisclosed location where she seemingly kills them to use their flesh as a delicacy. This is the plot in the novel, but visually, Glazer symbolises this with a series of disturbing visuals in which the men are led down into a black pool or tar where they are suffocated and pressurised until their internal matter disintegrates and all that is left is their paper-thin floating skin, resembling an empty plastic bag.
The ideas and messages behind Under The Skin are plentiful, and you can take your pick of which you choose to recognise. Are the lonely, unwanted men killed for a higher cause of humanity? Is the capture and consumption of the humans a comment on corporations taking advantages of vulnerable people? Can a man who is kind and loving to the killer end this onslaught of sexually-charged destruction? Are we supposed to be grateful for our place in the universe? Is being alone going against our nature as humans?
All of the above have been speculated about the novel and the film, and a couple are my own musings as I find myself left with a sense of alienation from Under The Skin.