Under The Skin: Review

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So I had heard a mixture of reactions about Under The Skin but I was still intrigued so I thought I would give it a go. By half way through, I was seriously regretting my choice because it was dull, slow and repetitive. However, it did finally go somewhere and in the end I left feeling slightly more positive about it.

Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who picks up strangers around Scotland in her van to kill them – it is not revealed if it’s a life source or just her twisted nature. It doesn’t go beyond that. I would say the film is more of an experience rather than a fully fleshed out story and not a fully pleasant experience at that.

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I like going see independent films because they break the mould from usual studio fare but this is so far removed from anything I’ve seen before. It’s so bizarre. It’s hard to know what’s going on. If you don’t know she’s an alien from previews than you are going to be pretty screwed the majority of the time. Until about half way through, I was wishing I had gone to see something else. I was wondering why Scarlett would sign up for this. Nothing made sense, it was repeated itself from alien picks up male, takes back to dark room and kills him. But it’s not even a normal killing – it is shown in a surreal manner, where the man strips and as he walks towards a scantily clad Johansson, he sinks into the black, gloopy ground. The first time it happens I thought ‘what the fuck is happening?’, by the second time I was like ‘are you kidding me?’ but luckily by the third time, her mind alters and something resembling a plot appears.

This film would not have been made or perhaps distributed if it had not been for Scarlett. How director Jonathan Glazer got her on board, I have no idea. She has to talk to actual Scottish strangers (it feels so real), she really underplays the part but I guess she isn’t supposed to show humans emotion and she gets full-on naked. It’s a very vulnerable role and I’m impressed that she took it on and I definitely see her in a new light.

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You can feel the change of pace in the second half. You feel like something has shifted and the film might actually be going somewhere. It was never going to have a beginning, middle and end but I was hoping it would progress a little – and finally it did. She seems to be embracing human life and tries to disappear from the men on motorbikes who keep her killings quiet. Well, that’s what I understood but nothing is ever explained or clear cut. You just take from it what you can. You never know whether you’re reading too deep into it or not deep enough. It’s hard to know and you are constantly wondering what’s going on. I got the impression so wanted to break free from ‘her mission’ of killing dudes to live a peaceful human life but it is fraught with problems.

In all, I don’t see how critics have come to the conclusion that it is an amazing film. I welcome films being artsy and abstract but some scenes were just too obscure for my liking. Like I said, the second half is far better but I wouldn’t blame anyone for switching off or falling asleep for the first hour. I would not recommend you see this in the cinema – best to save it for home viewing – but even then, you will really need to psych yourself up for the mind-boggling experience. Scarlett did a brilliant job with what she was given and what a brave performance.

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