Under the Skin, 2014
dir. Jonathan Glazer
I have no words to describe how amazing this film is. It’s unsettling, creepy, eerily quiet, bright and dark, and absolutely terrifying. As a resident of Edinburgh, and a frequent visitor of Glasgow, this was particularly scary because it’s so local. That guy could have been my neighbour. I could have walked by that woman when I went to the shopping centre a few weeks ago. That bit is where it differs from your usual psychological-thriller-cum-horror-cum-science-fiction, because The Other is not so… other.
The main focus of the film is Scarlett Johansson, who plays an unnamed alien whose job is to abduct men to gather their flesh. (In the book, she is called Isserley). All that is pretty straightforward, all very Bodysnatchers, your good old sci-fi thriller directed by Michael Bay. But in Under the Skin, we are in Johansson’s mind. There is no exposition through dialogue, in fact all words spoken are just small talk that the alien uses to lure in her victims. It is all in how Johansson uses her body, her body language, her eyes and facial expressions. The opening sequence where you can hear her learning how to speak is probably going to haunt me forever.
What is terribly scary about it, though, is the lighting and music. It’s so dark at times, with only one point of focus, one beam of light or a red line, and then music in the background, an unsettling score (composed by singer Mica Levi). There is a whole Kubrick-y atmosphere surrounding it that doesn’t feel forced, it’s natural, simple, and not like every other quasi-horror film where they try to replicate what Kubrick did in The Shining. My friend pointed out that, while the silences in Kubrick’s films always feel a bit off, here Glazer uses the silence to his favour, every sound, be that diegetic or non-diegetic, is put there deliberately because the audience is in Isserley’s mind. His silenceswork.
This film is absolutely terrifying. It is beautiful, a master-piece, perhaps the best film I’ve seen this year so far (if not ever, and if so, it has ruined films for me), and Scarlett Johansson shines bright, mesmerising, finally able to act. I haven’t been this unsettled by a film in years, and I am so happy this did it.
review by Mariana Duarte