It’s easy to say that Under The Skin is Jonathan Glazer’s take on the modern vampire film and that is both accurate and inaccurate.
Under The Skin is the story of an alien in human form who goes on to seduce the members of the Scottish populace for her own sinister ends. It is sexy and stylish much like modern-day vampire films but it also looks at the human condition and the fine line between predator and prey.
Almost every second of Under The Skin feels tangible by the way the camera flirts with the viewer; the public is let to interact with Scarlett Johansson’s alien seductress Laura. Johansson has such a recognisable image and beauty that it’s fantastic to see a film in which it is used in unusual and sinister ways. Sure, she’s seducing men and taking them back to her dingy apartment but what goes on inside the apartment is altogether otherworldly; a gruesome display of entrapment via sex appeal. Johansson’s alien in disguise learns the ropes seemingly quickly and before too long she can take almost any man she wants though she is often cautious of groups and other women. The use of sound design makes it feel as though every human being appearing in frame is under the watchful gaze of some kind of predator and this ‘cat and mouse’ point of view is what makes up almost two thirds of the film.
While it is fascinating to watch, it does start to become slightly repetitive after an hour, given that there are no sub-plots or answers to the extremely vague set-up, only the same routine of enticing someone and taking them back to an extremely dodgy-looking shack on the outskirts of Glasgow. It is frustrating and entrancing in equal measure. On one hand, the plot feels very bare and people who like to have the minute detail explained to them will probably find themselves gritting their teeth in frustration, coming up with their own theories for what exactly happens to the men who enter the alien house and for several other vague plot points. On the other, Scarlett Johansson’s performance is so captivating and believable (as much as is possible with an alien) that the details cease to matter.
After the first hour the narrative of the story develops at a slightly faster pace and it is genuinely engrossing to see the gradual change in the central character and how this affects those around her. Ultimately though, this character development comes too late and, before the film really has any chance to elaborate on the themes or questions it raised, the credits are up leaving a peculiar mix of intrigue and disappointment.
This is a film that will frustrate and delight for exactly the same reason: a vague but highly mysterious and curious concept that is expanded upon and matured on a very slow burn. It is wonderful to see Scarlett Johansson’s performance as an alien struggling with feelings that go against her nature. At the same time, however, it’s easy to wish the film had shown or explained more.
Under The Skin is in cinemas now.