May 12, 2014

Review: Scarlett Johansson Gets 'Under the Skin'

Scarlett Johansson Jonathan Glazer Under the Skin

Loosley adapted from Michel Faber's novel, filmmaker Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is a strangely acerbic yet captivating look and terrifying vision of the inner workings of humanity using haunting imagery. Scarlett Johansson transforms herself into a seductive extraterrestrial predator on the prowl in the streets of Glasgow, Scotland. It's more of a cerebral, abstract look at human behaviour and emotion mixed with sci-fi fantasy horror that is certain to divide its audience.

Glazer has little interest in explaining what we're seeing on screen. He creates a haunting portrait of human existence at its essence as the film is systematic in its execution. Perfectly cast, Johannson is completely transfixed as a figure from another place in a mostly quiet role, capturing the feeling of learning how to be human while stalking and seducing men (some of whom were non-actors unaware they were being filmed) on the streets for mysterious, nefarious reasons.

Under the Skin features some truly complex sound design in tandem with a perfectly sinister musical score by Mica Levi that only adds to eery atmosphere of the film. Every element only adds to its fully formed nature mirroring the role Johansson plays as a culmination of her entire career, mainstream sex appeal, celebrity status, and acting range (most notably in Her, where in contrast, she was a disembodied voice with a full personality). Her physicality as a non-human slowly revealing human emotion and discovery is pure intrigue as it unfolds.

What lifts the film is its richly perplexing, fully realized atmospheric tone and landscape. Glasgow has never seemed so sinister with scenes of mundane action filled with a pervasive sense of dread trough superb acting and direction. Halfway through, this mood and tone is replaced with Johannson's alien going off on her own, trying to explore humanity and learn to exist. Glazer captures and builds a precisely mesmerizing portrait of fear and escape wrapped in horror motifs to create a fully cinematic experience filled with intoxicating thematic pursuits. It really is quite unlike anything you've seen.

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