Under The Skin
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
108 mins; Class 18; KRS
Scarlett Johansson has made the transition from child actor to acclaimed actress at the top of her game with consummate ease. From her debut as a nine-year-old in the poorly-received fantasy North in 1994 via a series of child roles, she finally graduated to the adult world in her award-winning turn in Sophia Coppola’s sublime Lost in Translation (2003).
Ever since, she has displayed her versatility in comedy, drama and action – thanks to her butt-kicking role as Black Widow in the Avengers series – tackling each role with commitment and depth; as perfectly embodied in her voice-only role in the Oscar-winning Her earlier this year.
Johansson certainly refuses to sit on her laurels and takes on an incredible challenge in Under the Skin, a strange, mesmerising, yet slightly unfulfilling piece of science fiction which is sure to divide audiences.
Johansson plays a mysterious, aloof, but very sexy woman who seeks out lonely men and lures them into her van for nefarious ends. As she searches the bustling streets of Glasgow and the more barren landscapes of the Scottish highlights, coldly and callously disposing of victim after victim, she begins to see the world through their eyes. She is shocked to discover a glimmer of empathy for her victims, which causes her to question her actions…
A challenging role for the actress and she rises to it seamlessly
Johansson features in every scene and through vivid body language and powerful facial expression, conveys a woman carrying out a mission, yet who is lost and confused. It is a challenging role for the actress and she rises to it seamlessly.
There are scenes where director Jonathan Glazer, who also wrote the script with Walter Campbell, took the unusual route of placing Johansson in full femme fatale costume and asking her to hit on random unsuspecting citizens all the while being filmed. Much of this footage ended up in the final film, giving it a sense of authenticity rarely captured on the screen, underscored by an urgent musical score by Mica Levi.
A sense of morbid fascination and terror pervades throughout. Once the woman (whose name we never learn) latches on to her prey, she takes them back to her lair – a beautifully-designed black space that takes over the screen, with mirrored floors – and as she walks across the room slowly disrobing, her lascivious prey hapless disappears into the floor never to be seen again. What then befalls them is the stuff of nightmares.
And yet, it may prove a bit too bizarre for mainstream audiences. Light on dialogue and heavy on mood, the film’s greatest flaw is its reliance on audience members figuring out what is going on for themselves. The narrative is so opaque that for the most part it is a struggle to follow. Who the woman is and what her motives ultimately are remain frustratingly vague.
That said, those who like a cinematic challenge will lap it up while the main draw is Johansson who keeps our attention throughout and is so mesmerising that, questions notwithstanding, she does succeed in getting under our skin.