English filmmaker Johnathan Glazer‘s UNDER THE SKIN (2013) is an otherworldly, durably erotic, book-to-screen sci-fi fable from author Michael Faber. There is a fascination about watching a movie where the protagonist can emerge out of darkness and be tactically surreptitious in their actions. Scarlett Johansson delivers an unnerving performance that is both mesmerizing and complicated. It provides an environment for dubious uncertainties, and are where this film gets its visual appeal.
As an alien entity that inhabits the earthly form of a seductive young woman, Johansson gets behind the wheel of a white van, surveying the streets and alleyways for men. She lures them with a smile and some small-talk. If she’s successful, she continues the lustful conversation up until she and the man of the evening arrive at home on an isolated road. Upon entering, she gingerly disrobes, looks over her shoulder to encourage her follower to do the same. The quest ends when her male companion is naked and submerged in a vicious liquid. With her task complete, she gathers her discarded clothing and resumes the hunt.
Glazer’s direction allows viewers to become comfortable with a character that is altogether cunning and dangerous. The reveal is slow and indistinct only evolves the mystery into the creature’s intended purpose: sustenance. Only that the meaty bits of the men who become trapped is dissolved, leaving only a husk, the rest is nutrients for who or what isn’t discernible. The subtlety of sound also helps to convey the relentlessness and insensitivity in pursuit of these men. Two empathetic moments: she enters into a brief relationship with a man who had shown her kindness, and allowing one of her victims the opportunity to escape the vicious pit.
Though wholly enveloped as a science-fiction horror, Under The Skin nearly avoids narrowing the events too specifically in this genre perspective. It is, at its core, a film about desire, isolation and doubt–what it means to be kind, considerate and understandably human. The dominant underlying theme of sexuality is used to the absolute advantage of the alien stalker-huntress, who lures men by their erections, to their doom.
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