Under the Skin

Movie Review #823: Exhilarating.

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano
under_the_skin

Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Rated R (contains graphic nudity, sexual content, violence, profanity)
108 minutes

“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.

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7 thoughts on “Under the Skin

  1. Glad you liked it; I personally loved this film. Scarlett Johansson’s performance was amazing and I loved the contrast between the realist footage and the really abstract sci-fi stuff. Great film that will be talked about for a while.

    • I’m so glad you liked it! I knew it would be really good; that’s why I preordered the Blu-ray. I just wasn’t aware it’d be THIS good. Definitely my #1 for the year at the moment. And I totally forgot to mention the contrast between the realist and the abstract sci-fi! Thanks for bringing it up here.

  2. I definitely need to check this one out. With its story, it had a good chance at either becoming another Jennifer’s Body or misogynistic film, but it appears to have transcended all those negativities. Good review.

    • Nooooo it’s definitely nothing like Jennifer’s Body. Haven’t seen that one, but it’s got Megan Fox.

      Like I said in the review, some might call it misogynistic, but it’s likely their reasons are pretty shallow.

      You should most definitely watch it. It’s stunning.

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