Review of Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin"

Under the Skin  ★★★★½


It took nine years for director Jonathan Glazer (after 2000's Sexy Beast and 2004's Birth) and three full months into 2014 but the first truly great film of this year has finally arrived. This macabre picture is horrifyingly beautiful, surreal, and contains three moments which I'm sure will be competing for my favorites of the year.

The less that is known going into Under the Skin the better. The trailer is a better option than having someone explain the plot to you so I would say watch it and if it grabs your attention, do no more investigation beyond that point. This is not a film which goes from plot point to plot point, holding your hand, and explaining everything in detail. You'll need to pay attention and surmise what's occurring for yourself. You'll also need to pay particularly close attention to the dialog. Glazer shot the film on location in Scotland and at times I found it impossible to understand what was being said though it didn't really matter. Although sound and music is used to great effect; this is more a film that's to be comprehended visually. There is also a spot or two where it dragged for me during the scenes of Scarlett Johansson driving around attempting to pick up men in her van. Those moments passed, however, and were followed by ones which often shocked me with their suddenness and style.

Johansson is mesmerizing in the lead role and this is no small feat as it requires precision of movement and reaction. Adam Pearson pairs with Johansson in a fantastic scene made all the more powerful once I discovered in the post-screening Q&A that he was not a professional actor and actually does have neurofibromatosis; his facial disfigurement not being achieved through practical or visual effects. It is a brave performance which creates a sequence of events both moving and uncomfortable. Mica Levi has crafted the eeriest score since Clint Mansell's for Requiem for a Dream (which incidentally I was listening to on my way to this screening) and the cinematography is often stunning. 

I'm eager to give this another watch and I hope it isn't another nine years before we see something from director Jonathan Glazer again.