‘Under the Skin’

A view of Humanity through Alien eyes.

Under the Skin (2014)


Jonathan Glazer


Walter Campbell, Michel Faber (based on the novel by)


Brave filmmaking is often divisive. Case in point: Under the Skin, an art-house-horror-sci-fi film staring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Jonathan Glazer. Check out the comments on IMBD’s message board and you’d think folks were talking about 2 different movies. One viewer writes, “The entire world melted away as I immersed myself in this masterpiece,” while another laments, “OMG! What a pretentious, worthless p o *beep*.”

Official Synopsis:  A mysterious woman seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.

Those looking for a traditional movie-watching experience will struggle with Under the Skin. With no discernable First, Second, or Third Acts, the film’s action oozes like tar. The script can’t be more than a few pages long; what dialog there is was often culled from hidden cameras as Scarlett Johansson interacted with non-actors who had no idea they were being filmed for a movie. These experimental techniques and ultra-slow-burn style of storytelling requires a certain commitment from the viewer—and patience.


The result is a surrealist nightmare of sorts—which is great if that’s your “thang.” As an alien temptress, Scarlett Johansson lures lustful men into a dark, aquatic realm where they are harvested for consumption—a process that separates a man from his skin. I loved these moody, psychedelic meanderings, and wish the film could have included more scenes from this otherworldly dimension.

It would be almost impossible for me to “spoil” any aspect of Under the Skin. Even if I were to give you a scene-by-scene breakdown, my interpretations might be vastly different from someone else; and with almost no dialog or back-story, there really are no “right answers” when it comes to various theories.

Still, the themes are pretty easy to decipher. Humanity and what it means to be Human are core tenants of the film. Johansson’s Alien becomes fascinated and perplexed by the complexities of human existence, eventually embracing her exterior humanity—with sometimes shocking results. She’s a being who understands seduction but not sex, lust but not intimacy. As she learns the meanings behind actions and reactions, she begins a sort of transformation. In the end, it’s a very mixed blessing. By opening herself up to the wonderful aspects of humanity, she also becomes vulnerable to the darkest human evils.


Once you begin the film, you are highly encouraged to stick with it, even if you are fairly certain Under the Skin is not your cup of tea. While the pacing may seem tedious, the final reveal is utterly fantastic: Beautiful and brutal.

Ultimately, Glazer delivers a film that is sometimes difficult to enjoy but very easy to endure (thanks in no small part to copious nudity, including some full frontal Scarlett). This is not your typical sci-fi or horror film—although it is fantastic and, at times, extremely horrifying (a scene involving an abandoned baby is especially gut-wrenching). Brave cinema fans will marvel at the film’s unique and complicated portrayal of an “alien threat” while enjoying plenty of follow-up discussions with other aficionados. Those looking for cheap thrills need not bother.


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