Under the Skin is an enigmatic experience, but one that I will gladly ponder for some time to come. Based on the novel by Michel Faber, Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell’s script follows the story of an extraterrestrial being who assumes the form of a nameless woman played by Scarlett Johansson. The alien drives around Edinburgh in a windowless van, seducing lonely men, then abducting them to absorb their essence. Though this may sound very much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the similarities really end there. If anything, this is more Kubrickian fare, all light, sound, and symbolism.
Though she may start off with a singular purpose, Johansson’s inquisitive alien seems to begin feeling human emotion and empathy, the majority of the film dedicated to her feeling out her burgeoning humanity. Though some may find the delivery of the film obtuse, I enjoyed its off-kilter, almost aimless quality as I felt it reflected the often mundane nature of everyday life. Little moments, such as Johansson suddenly finding herself tapping her fingers to music, do much to develop the film’s themes and keep the viewer engaged. This is mainly due to an impressive, restrained performance by Johansson, who manages to capture the charm of a predator when seducing her earlier targets as well as the pity and confusion that accompanies her realization of what she’s been doing as the film progresses. Jonathan Glazer’s direction is interesting and occasionally baffling in the best way possible, especially in the utter darkness of the chamber in which Johansson’s alien consumes the men she has seduced into following her. Whether it’s metaphorical or not remains to be seen, but from purely aesthetic standards, considering the savagery of what is being committed, it is beautiful in the extreme. The film’s arresting visuals are coupled with an unsettling score by Mica Levi that reminded me of the best works of György Ligeti, adding to each scene in a palpable way, increasing the terror of Johansson’s seductions while also highlighting the small joys of her human discovery. Overall, Under the Skin is a mesmerizing experience that goes beyond narrative, delivering something unique in today’s film market that hearkens back to the trippy, inexplicable science fiction of the 70s, while also having a modern appeal for the film enthusiast.