Film Review: Under the Skin

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Under the Skin is a bizarre and singular film from Jonathan Glazer that won’t leave you anytime soon after walking out of that theater.

Following a young woman as she stalks the streets of Scotland, the film is mostly a sensory experience with zero exposition. This might turn off a number of viewers, but the film was an arresting experience for me. I couldn’t look away from the screen. The film opens with a woman being gathered by a man on a motorcycle with a white van, before we see our woman, Laura (Scarlett Johansson), take all her clothes and drive off in said white van. Laura begins a pursuit of alone men and what ends up happening to them will just have to be seen to be believed.

There isn’t a lot that happens in the film, it demands patience, but I think the less you know going in will be for the best. I knew one plot detail of the film going in, and I kind of wish I didn’t, even if that is kind of their log line on the film. It had me expecting more than we get from that element if the film, but on reflection that was entirely my issue, not the films. About half way through the picture transitions into a story of self discovery and while I missed the “black room” (you’ll know what I mean) the stuff that the film explores is just as engaging. Every time I think back on the film, I grow more fond of it, and I absolutely can’t wait to see the film again; knowing what I am getting into and not having to try and figure out what is going on and just taking in the experience that Glazer is giving us.

Glazer hasn’t made a feature and almost ten years, the under seen and underrated Birth was his last film, but his craft is as sharp as ever. Much of the film was shot in public spaces with Johansson interacting with real people, filmed unawares, and the authenticity this brings to Laura’s journey is essential. Johansson is so natural in the part as well, convincingly blending in with her surroundings and playing it cool in situations that arise. Johansson brings a nuanced evolution to Laura over the course of the film and we are able to connect with her even if we are not able to remotely relate to her situation.

The music in the film also deserves special mention as it is essential to the experience. It is blended wonderfully together with the sound mix and they go hand and hand together, creating an aural experience you are unlikely to find a comparison too. It is a big reason you get sucked into the film and it gives everything an eerie and unsettling vibe that evolves as Laura moves from hunter to hunted. There are also some experimental visuals that will arrest you throughout the picture, I have no idea how some were created or what they even were, but one image will stick with you in particular, long after the credits roll; pop.

Under the Skin is unlike anything I have ever seen and while I can’t guarantee you will remotely like it, it’s an experience that any film lover should partake in. Johansson is great in the lead and Glazer has crafted a picture that makes you wish he doesn’t wait nearly as long to make another picture. Almost surely to improve on subsequent viewings, Under the Skin should end up very high on my Best of 2014.

Under the Skin is an A-

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