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Review

‘Under the Skin’ proves to be underground gem

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May 8, 2014

“Under the Skin” is a film that can only be viewed in underground theaters, which is a shame, because this Scarlett Johansson thriller is a slow-burning, stylistic gem worth seeking out.

Johansson plays Laura, a mysterious, tight-lipped woman who suddenly arrives in Scotland and begins preying on lonely, naive men. From the opening scene, which can be placed somewhere between time and space, we come to understand that Laura is not from this world.

Movie poster for Under the Skin.
“Under the Skin” stars Scarlett Johansson.

Laura lures men into her secluded, filthy, uninhabited “home,” where she collects their bodies for an unknown motive. She methodically collects one man after another.

But Laura does not act alone as she has help from an odd, leather jacket-wearing sidekick who cleans up after her mess. Similar to other “alien” intruder films, the true reason for Laura’s presence on Earth is left uncertain for the majority of the film. We are never truly able to comprehend what Laura is trying to accomplish with the collection of these earthly bodies; we can only speculate.

The cinematic theme shifts from alien seductress to a bittersweet story about exploration and discovery as Laura tries to adapt to new her surroundings: a world that was not made for her species. She begins to doubt her reason for inhabiting our planet, and is faced with a decision of compliance or resignation.

The very last moments of the film are visually stunning and improbably heartbreaking. After 100 minutes of questions, theories and concerns, “Under the Skin” reveals its true identity to its audience in stunning fashion.

The film’s central themes and puzzling subject matter ultimately demonstrate purpose and produce a thought-provoking and skin-crawling finale.

Johansson, who is the only experienced actress in the film, truly took a massive risk by accepting the role of Laura. She is asked to bare all on numerous occasions.

The film’s nudity may come across gratuitous to some, but I believe it is essential to the plot. Johansson’s character is one of inner conflict; she is in search of meaning and purpose, leaving Laura curious about her earthly body and its functions.

Unlike “Shame,” or even “The Wolf of Wall Street,” this film does not unnecessarily flaunt naked men and women across the screen to obtain cheap laughs or gasps, but instead shows both the ugliness and beauty of the human form and the human nature.

Stanley Kubrick fans will be delighted by the dark and colorful imagery, the pace and the tour de force performance by Johansson. Kubrick comparisons should not be given out lightly, but there are real similarities in “Under the Skin” with his early work, most notably “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “A Clockwork Orange.”

Jonathan Glazer, who is best known for the Oscar-nominated, Ben Kingsley drama “Sexy Beast,” is a director worth keeping an eye on. There are noticeable Kubrick and early Danny Boyle traits in “Under the Skin.” This is a film with raw dialogue, beautiful and authentic cinematography and dark themes.

“Under the Skin” is the first of six novels by Dutch-born fiction writer Michel Faber, who helped pen the script for the film. Those who have read the critically acclaimed novel usually have a hard time categorizing it because of the genre-blended content.

“Under the Skin” is everything an art film should be: introspective, curious, visually striking and unnerving. The film leaves a lot of unanswered questions for us, the audience, to decipher.

What makes someone human? Is it our skin—the external appearance that people see every day and judge—or is it the individual inside?

You be the judge.

Jack Tuthill is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the <em>Student Voice</em> during the 2014-2015 academic year.