Friday, April 11, 2014

Under The Skin

Get out your limitless black room with engulfing watery floor, we're reviewing Under The Skin!

Scarlet Johansson plays an alien(?) looking and acting like a pretty girl in order to lure men back to her home(??) for sinister purposes(?!).

What a weird film. What a strange, uncompromising, beautiful, horrifying, frustrating, engrossing, mysterious film. When you watch this, you should approach it more as an art film than as a sci-fi movie, because otherwise it will annoy the hell out of you.

That's where the "uncompromising" part comes in. You'll see Johansson (her character is never given a name, nor is any other character) go about her routine of luring a solitary man that won't be missed into her clutches, doing her evil alien thing, having her motorcycle enforcer erasing any evidence of the guy, then repeating the process all over again. Several times. This accounts for about 75% of the film. There's barely any dialogue, never any inner monologue from Johansson or any other character, no narration, and it's never revealed exactly who/what she is or why she's doing what she's doing. She just – she just is.

As a sci-fi fan, I find that infuriating, because I want to know what's going on! They dangled a carrot in front of me only to reveal it wasn’t a carrot at all – just a picture! They presented a question and got you thinking and wondering, but left you in suspense with no answer. I really – very much seriously REALLY – want to know what the hell is going on in this movie. Where did they come from? What are they? What are they using the men for? Why only men? I need to know! But – as an art film, I can respect what it's doing. It's giving you a very specific story, Johansson's story, and nothing else. It's giving you the minimal amount of information needed to focus on what her character is doing and how she's feeling. This movie does not give a fuck about your stupid little questions. Which is pretty great. It’s like this: even though I really super definitely want to know what's going on, the anticipation was so strong – my ideas and wondering so intense - that whatever answer they might have given wouldn't have been half as good as what I was expecting. It feels like Jonathan Glazer told the actors, and only the actors, the full story and I love that. No info-dump narration, no overly preachy message about the environment; just aliens doing alien stuff, because aliens. 

Which is not to say it lacks a deeper meaning; it's a deeply meaningful movie about what it means to be human from the perspective of someone who is not at all human. And it's kind of sad, a little funny, and very disturbing. Disturbing and creepy. You expect something to jump out at you at any second, but it never does, and THAT makes it all the more unsettling. Some really awful things happen in this movie, and Johansson does some of those awful things. She does a killer job of being a disquieting creature. Her character can compare to a Barbie doll that has gained sentience, started to kill men, and then contemplated her own plastic existence.

I usually try not to list female beauty as a reason for going to a movie, because you people have the internet – why should that be a deciding factor? But Scarlet Johansson is fully naked through a big portion of this and I think that's a plus for any human regardless of sexual orientation because DAMN she is one attractive human being! There are also naked guys in this too, with actual penises nudity! How often does that happen, right? Not that they’re at all as visually enrapturing as Johansson’s form, but still. To bring it back around to the artistic, I think it's really interesting how it uses the viewer’s desire to soak in her beauty against us, because ScarJo is looking at her own body just as much as we are, but with more of a curiosity. She'll spend five minutes looking at her face or her naked body as if questioning, "What the hell's going on here?" I agree with Witney Seibold in this review on Nerdist that it's forcing us to consider the way we look at a beautiful woman like ScarJo.

Many have likened Blazer's directing style to that of Kubrick, and it's not unjustified. The film can feel very slow and takes its time with the presentation, eerily so, with some stunningly off-putting visuals and some generally beautiful shots of the Scotland backdrop. It's a gorgeous film to experience, the visuals almost more important than the story itself. And with those visuals is a haunting, terrifying soundtrack that gives the film a disconcerting rhythm. You'd expect it in some sort of bloody horror movie or perhaps a Ridley Scott sci-fi film, and considering there's barely any dialogue, this unrelenting soundtrack is sometimes the only thing you have to hang in these slow, seemingly mundane shots, making them all the more unsettling. It reminds me a lot of The Set-Up actually, which also had very little dialogue and gave the characters plenty of room to contemplate.

I really admire that the movie takes place in Scotland instead of America, because who would go looking for men there in the middle of nowhere? That seems like a good place to start a secret evil alien organization.

This is a gorgeous, strange, unsettling film. If you're hoping for some really freaky monster moments a la Species or The Thing you might be frustrated and disappointed. But go into it expecting a much more transcendent experience like 2001: A Space Odyssey and you'll want to see it again right after.

THE GOOD: Beautiful shots and landscape, no explanation for aliens, great acting, great soundtrack, naked Scarjo, penises, weird.

THE BAD: Aliens never explained, might be frustrating to sci-fi people, slow and long.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's really well done and I kind of want to see it again? But also man what the flipping fuck was going on in that film.

MOVIES LIKE IT: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, Holy Motors, Species, Europa Report, The Set-Up

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: The movie starts with Johansson’s character removing the clothes from what appears to be her limp, unmoving clone to put them on herself. A single tear runs down the face of the now-nude body. It's never explained why she's being replaced, what happened to her, or what's become of her afterwards.

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