Release Date: August 29th, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Written by: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer
Based on: Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Music by: Micachu (as Mica Levi)
Cast: Scarlett Johansson
BFI, Film4, StudioCanal, A24, 108 Minutes
It is kind of hard to describe Under the Skin and I consider that a good thing. If anything, it is quite a unique experience. The film follows a woman who picks up men in her van, takes them back to her place and.. well, I can’t say more than that without giving away too much.
The film is directed by Jonathan Glazer, who is probably best known for Sexy Beast. However, this film may now become the most recognizable in his catalog. It is adapted from a Michel Faber novel of the same name, albeit pretty loosely.
Scarlett Johansson is the only well-known actor in this film. Many of the other characters are not actors and some are people who were filmed by hidden camera while having real conversations not knowing they were talking to Johansson. The method gave this film a sort of organic realism that most likely couldn’t have been achieved by actors spouting written lines. It was that realism that made this movie more unsettling than it would have been otherwise. There was just a genuine awkwardness to those scenes.
Even though this fits within the realms of science fiction and horror, Under the Skin is an art film, through and through. It is meticulously crafted, shot and acted. It is one of the most visually stunning films I have seen in a long time and although it may seem like there is a heavier emphasis on style over things actually happening, there is a lot of substance to absorb. It is a heavy film and complex for something having a lot of long drawn out scenes and little dialogue. There are certainly messages to decipher but those messages are also, I feel, deliberately vague and open for interpretation.
Johansson gets lost in this character and it is easy to forget it is her. The rest of the cast feels natural and almost too comfortable for the situations they’re in. But that is also part of the point of this film.
This is a visual masterpiece but it is greatly accented by the amazing score done by Mica Levi (more commonly known by her stage name Micachu). The music made the film even more surreal but conveyed a lot of different emotions. There was a pure dread about it but it had beauty and perfectly articulated what Johansson’s character is, as well as what this film is.
Under the Skin is a unique and bizarre film but that just makes it my cup of tea. It is dark yet somehow sweet. It is almost Kubrickian in its presentation but still has enough of its own style to stand up proudly on its own. And I don’t mean that it is stealing from Kubrick, it just brings me to that same head space and matches that tone, which is an impossible task for nearly every other filmmaker that has ventured in that direction.