Under the Skin begins with a long stretch of eerie silence in a very similar fashion to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and just like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Under the Skin is a mysterious look at humanity that is as maddening as it is enlightening. The Jonathan Glazer film is a fascinating portrayal of the loneliness that humanity can so easily be confronted with and features a performance that finally proves that Scarlett Johansson can be something more than just an A-List celebrity.
Under the Skin follows a creature (Scarlett Johansson) that takes the shape of a woman and hunts down male humans with her sexual charm for the purpose of creating more energy. As the creature begins to learn more about humanity, she becomes even more curious, which gets the attention of her supervisor (professional motorcyclist Jeremy McWilliams). The film is directed by Jonathan Glazer (the director of Sexy Beast, which has similarities to this film but was much more frustrating) and is written by Glazer and Walter Campbell.
This film can be quite esoteric and takes a lot of patience. Very few words are spoken and there isn’t much going on in terms of plot. However, Jonathan Glazer finds a way to mine so much power from this. Glazer’s style for the film very much makes the viewer an observer to something that seems real as he just lets things play out through the imagery seen onscreen rather than make the characters explain everything that is going on. There is also something very real that Glazer is trying to get to the bottom of with this film about human nature. I saw it as being humanity finding itself stuck in a lonely world forcing us to naturally crave attention. Maybe you will find something else within it, but even if you can’t find what it is that Glazer is trying to tell us, Glazer makes sure that this is one of the most beautiful films in recent memory. The Scotland scenery is just gorgeous and Glazer finds a way to make it seem so otherworldly.
That being said, this film doesn’t succeed at all without the unbelievable performance from Scarlett Johansson. Johansson has always seemed like one of those actors that knew how to pick good films but would just get lost among better performances. However, here she fully succeeds with a role that is really difficult to pull off. Johansson does so much with quietness in this film as the camera lingers on her from beginning to end. Despite not talking much and never being given an answer to what she is doing you can completely understand her motivations, and that takes a lot of skill to accomplish.
Under the Skin can be quite a frustrating film but if you let yourself absorb it, it will be a hard film to forget.