Movie Review #823: Exhilarating.
By Alexander Diminiano
|Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller|
|Rated R (contains graphic nudity, sexual content, violence, profanity)|
“Under the Skin” rivets from the very beginning, which is more of a monumental genesis than a conventional opening. We zoom in from what might be millions of miles away toward what appears to be a star. Closer. Closer. Closer. And than it suddenly bursts with radiating light. Closer. Closer. The star now appears to be a planet. Closer, and we discover that we are watching neither the creation of a planet nor of a star. We are watching the creation of a human eye. At least, that’s what we’re sure of at that moment.
It’s barely suggested at all in “Under the Skin” that what we’re watching is pure science fiction. Not until the ending do we discover that the woman whose perspective we have been studying for nearly two hours is not a “she” but an “it.” Laura (Scarlett Johansson) is an alien from another world, who has practiced hard to look, talk, and act like a Scottish woman. None of that is clear for most of the movie, though we do feel alienation throughout the entirety of this story, as we watch Laura react stoically to anything she sees. She can just about fake a smile, and as a matter of fact, she does so rather frequently.
“Under the Skin” is the story of a womanlike being who seduces men in Scotland, one after another. Perhaps she hopes to wipe out the entire population of Scotland, or perhaps she simply wishes to claim a few lives. We see the entire film through her eyes, yet we sense nothing of her other than her state of alienation. In effect, we are alienated from her motives and intentions. In another era, this would have been a grindhouse flick. In this era, it’s a clever horror movie, concealing its sci-fi and eliminating any trace of camp in its story.
At a particular angle, “Under the Skin” might seem a movie that overtly objectifies women, subliminally promoting sexism. In truth, it’s just the opposite. This film is a steel magnet in the feminist movement that has emerged in past decade of cinema. The lead character has been around since Greek mythology, just not with this astonishing, unspoken persona. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is understated and absolutely stunning. She grabs the movie–with vim, vygour, and vitality–by the neck.
“Under the Skin” is just as outstanding in its story as in its technical achievements. The cinematography, set design, and visual effects co-create one of the most visually arresting atmospheres of the decade so far in cinema. In the nighttime setting, “Under the Skin” earns points for its especially chilling effect. The atmosphere is enunciated with a roaring, thrilling feeling of exhilaration thanks to its sound effects and Mica Levi’s music score. The eerie, shrill, and yet all the more irresistible music enunciates sex scenes, which are placed on sets that are so mysterious, I cannot begin to explain them. “Under the Skin” holds a tight grip on its audience for its near-two hours, but it’s during these scenes that I could swear my heart was pumping out of rhythm.