johnlink ranks UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

I haven’t been seeking this movie out. It is one of a number of polarizing films which some people hate and then those who love it love to tell other people that they just don’t get it. I have nothing against films like that, at their best they are of super high quality like TREE OF LIFE, but they do take some energy to sit through. But UNDER THE SKIN popped up as a new release on Amazon Prime, and I thought I would see what it was all about.


I watched UNDER THE SKIN (2013) on 11.25.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

Writer/Director Jonathan Glazer (liberally adapting a novel by Michel Faber) takes a painstakingly patient approach to telling this story about the feeding habits of a couple of aliens. While this is a film which never bothers with names, Scarlett Johansson plays the lead female; the new skin for an alien. She drives around Scotland looking for people with no familial connections. She lacks any kind of empathy. Instead of picking her victims to be kind to those with families, she does it because it is easier to pick those people off; as if they are the one limp animal lagging behind its herd.

In that way, UNDER THE SKIN is very much a film about realizing what your own place in life is. Are you one of the many friendly people, shown in montage, who are safe from the killer alien? Or are you the loner lagging behind his race? The themes aren’t subtle, even if they don’t get spoken out loud. Not much gets spoken out loud, and what is spoken is often irrelevant or in such a thick accent as to be intentionally off-putting.

The movie was filmed, often, with people who did not know they were on film. While many of the participants are actors, others were filmed with a hidden camera which allowed for a natural performance. There is a line being crossed, then, between structured narrative and documentary. That’s the point, though. This alien’s interactions with every day people reveal the true nature of people. When a guy eyeball’s Scarlett Johansson the line between movie star and character are blurred, even when there is no indication that these guys know who she really is.

The soundscape in the movie is a masterpiece all its own. The combination of tonal underscore and alien sounding metallic rhythms are intentionally dissonant, though we get so used to them that they fall into the background to create a constant state of subliminal unease.

This is not an enjoyable movie, per se. We are given almost nothing in terms of plot, and the characters are kept at an arm’s length intentionally. The movie contains the most unsexy nudity, both full male and female, to grace a screen. We see people naked without context, in a white room or a black void. While they, often, are thinking about sex, the audience is not with them. Instead, we are being dragged along as if this vouyerism (often leading to an obvious death) is a judgment on the viewer.

But the images we get are often beautiful, always interesting, and continually thought-provoking. This is not a traditional movie with a three act structure, other than we get the birth, life, and death of the alien in its Scarlett Johnasson form. Her journey, other than these marks, isn’t fluid. When she learns to become more human, as she becomes sympathetic to a deformed victim, there is the beginning of that traditional story. The way the arc is treated, however, is anything but normal. A character comes into her life to teach her, but leaves soon after. Then a man is met in the woods who comes back, but his obvious maliciousness serves as a counter-point to what we have seen already in this movie. His attack is not as jarring as it might be in a movie where we are asked to have sympathy for a character. Instead of being shocked by the act, we are shocked by what happens in its wake.

I’m sure I’ll see this again some time. It takes energy and focus. While I have a ton of respect for this movie, and I can consider its filmic and artistic powers, it is also a movie which forcefully keeps its audience at an arms length away. It is fascinating, engaging, powerful, and ultimately not all that enjoyable.



The bonus is for the score/soundscape. Beautiful work. As good as the visual landscape the movie provides.


FINAL SCORE: 7.25 out of 10


~ by johnlink00 on November 27, 2014.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks UNDER THE SKIN (2013)”

  1. This is a very strange movie, but that’s the main reason why I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. Good review John.

  2. Gramma,

    Nice review! A very different movie to be sure.

    Too many wangs.

    Your Aunt.

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