Under the Skin (2013)

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writers: Jonathan Glazer & Walter Campbell
Cinematographer: Daniel Landin
Composer: Mica Levi
Cast: Scarlett Johansson

About ten years ago I read Michel Faber’s novel Under the Skin, and absolutely loved it. Michel Faber is not the most well known of authors, but over time he has turned out amazing books like The Crimson Petal and the White, The Fire Gospel, and many others. The interesting thing about this author is that each one of his books is completely different from the previous one, both in terms of genre as well as language and style, he is a literary chameleon. And the novel that inspired this movie was equally compelling and interesting. I usually don’t watch many movies based on books I’ve read because they dilute or destroy the original story in an effort to force people into movie theaters. But I recently watched the trailer to this film and realized it was doing something different, and when I noticed who the director was I knew I should give it a shot.

Jonathan Glazer has carved out quite the weird career for himself in Hollywood. He has only made three movies, and he has chosen to focus more on arthouse creations than try to get chosen as the next puppet at the helm of a Marvel freak-show. Sexy Beast was a bizarre take on the mob story and it earned Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination. Birth was a showcase for Nicole Kidman’s talents, an it earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Both films are moody and compelling pieces of cinema that eschew the usual narrative devices and replace them with bizarre and fascinating choices. So yeah, I had to see how he’d adapt a novel I loved. Even if it wasn’t any good I would still be entertained.

This film rests entirely on the shoulders of Scarlett Johansson and literally nobody else’s. The actress plays an unnamed woman who drives around Glasgow at night, picking up lonely men. When she gets her hands on one, she takes him back to her home where they follow her into a dark tunnel undressing, only to be swallowed up by an inky black quicksand. They never seem alarmed, only transfixed by the enchantress, the siren with the unforgettable eyes.

The film could be seen as maddening in its repetition and soporific pace. The instance I described above gets repeated over and over again, unrelentingly. Entire shots of Johansson just driving around seem to go on forever without the director yelling cut. We are being lulled into a semi-coma, just like the preys of the mysterious woman.

Who is she? What does she want?

If you like brisk action and lots of exposition, this movie is so not for you. My boyfriend is a brave man who watches my crazy films with me, and even he grew frustrated, not understanding what was happening. I had read the novel, and while this film deviates so completely from anything Faber wrote, I at least knew one very important piece of information that someone who hasn’t read the source material doesn’t, and that makes all the difference. I loved the ending, the artistic lens that captured the entire film, but even I felt that the movie could have been trimmed by a half hour and still retained all of its strength. Overall I did quite enjoy the movie, and am becoming more and more of a Johansson fan, as I see how far her talents truly stretch. She has been deemed a beautiful bombshell, but we all fell in love with just her voice in Her. This movie had me falling in love with the rest of her.

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