by Ken Parker
What could a film starring Scarlett Johansson as a mysterious woman who picks up men who are then lured into abandoned buildings for what they hope could be sex, have for people to watch beside the obvious? Well, lots more if they like strange movies. Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and David Cronenberg are some of the filmmakers that the film, Under the Skin, has been compared to in terms of style and mood. The film is not a Species remake or clone. Not even close. The film goes to the deep end of the strange pool but in a good way.
The film starts with a man on a motorcycle picking up what appears to be a dead woman and bringing her to an all white room. There, another woman (Johansson), takes her clothes and heads out in a van, cruising the streets of Scotland, picking up men. The men are charmed by the woman who convinces them to enter a long hallway. Now completely under her spell, the men take their clothes off as the woman backs down a now featureless black room, enticing them to follow. They suddenly sink into a black pool and the woman stops and heads on back out for more. This happens a number of times but a few things happen that cause the woman some trouble. The motorcycle man seems to be called in when needed to clean up a mess (evidence) she leaves behind.
The woman seems almost robotic and one minded as Johansson is able to turn on and off the charm in luring the men. The woman begins to notice more and more things around her. She strays from her 'mission' and goes off the grid. The motorcycle man calls in some friends and they go looking for her. The woman encounters a man and for the first time seems to fall for him or at least decides to have sex with him. Things don't go so well and she runs off into the woods only to run into some more trouble.
This film is strange. Very strange. There is very little dialog. The imagery is fantastic and unsettling, especially when we get a glimpse at what is under the black pool. The music and sounds add to this oddness. The film originally reminded me of Liquid Sky (1982) which was strange in its own right and has sex as a primary plot device as well as aliens. Under the Skin had that similar vibe, the feel of it reminded me of those various midnight movies during my college years. The Man Who Fell to Earth is another example of this type of film.
The film does little in giving you answers to what is going on but the reveal at the end, that the woman is indeed some kind of alien or robotic being is not a big surprise. What we don't really know is why are the men lured into this black pool and what are those motorcycle men. I would expect that this is not a film that has a sequel to answer this. This is meant to be a voyeuristic look into something very strange. The film often just watches what is going on with long, music-less scenes. In reality, many of the scenes involving Johansson in the van, were recorded with hidden cameras just to set the atmosphere and give viewers the feel of realism. The film feels foreign for sure in its tone and pacing, and again, this is good.
Lack of answers does not detract from what this film does. It seems to be sexy at first with the woman really chatting up the men in a very realistic manner. The settings and interaction are candid but the unsettling images and manner in which Johansson acts is an incredible contrast which film maker Jonathan Glazer has in common with David Lynch and Cronenberg.
The film stays with you for a while, for good or bad and it is a film that I may want to see again soon, possibly to try to figure out what is going on, which I expect to be futile. Under the Skin does not have the scope of 2001: A Space Odyssey nor the humor in films by Lynch and Cronenberg and it may not even be a commentary on society with men and women but it is certainly interesting and surreal.
People who want answers should stay clear. We don't see what the purpose of the 'aliens' is and that is not the point of the film. If you love strange and want to experience something unusual then seek it out on Demand, DVD or Blu-ray as it is now available.