Jonathan Glazer spent ten years creating Under The Skin, working with several co-writers to bring Michel Faber’s tale of an extraterrestrial being to life. The result is harrowing, beguiling and unforgettable.
Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless alien who travels across Scotland searching for men upon which to prey. To reveal any more would spoil many of the surprises that Under The Skin has up its sleeve.
Not only does Scarlett Johansson take on the role of an alien, but she also plays an alien pretending to be a human. The way she switches between these two personas is astonishing, particularly when she is driving around Glasgow in search of her prey. In these scenes, Glazer rarely films from the street; instead he keeps his cameras inside the vehicle. We only see the alien and what she sees. We see these familiar places through her alien eyes and they look very strange indeed.
The alien preys upon a mix of different men, with varying degrees of success. Some of them are actors but the rest are unsuspecting members of the pubic and Glazer hasn’t divulged into which category each one falls (although it’s not too difficult to work a few of them out). This decision, along with the covert filming techniques used, makes for a very unnerving experience.
Mica Levi’s twitchy and sinister score perfectly compliments the uneasy mood whilst Daniel Levin’s cinematography finds a stark beauty in even the harshest of situations. I particularly enjoyed the apparent lack of any artificial light in situations such as, for example, the night time driving scenes where the alien’s face is only illuminated by the glow of the passing street lamps.
There are too many extraordinary scenes to mention here as we follow the alien on her journey, flirting with all aspects of humanity whilst remaining distinctly alien throughout. I’m not sure that the entire final act, including the shift of pace, is as successful as what preceded it, but Under The Skin remains a remarkable film that will leave an unshakeable shadow over the rest of the cinematic year.
Under The Skin was released in cinemas on 14th March 2014 and is scheduled to be released on DVD/Blu Ray on 14th July 2014.
Mica Levi's score is available on CD, Vinyl and download now.