Under the Skin (2014)

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“When is the last time you touched someone?”

There is an incisive difference between a well made movie and an enjoyable one. Under the Skin treads the line linking both territories, ending up as an unnerving and mesmeric film experience. Another solid film from the red-hot A24 Productions, this is not a film for everyone, and moviegoers who refuse to be challenged and provoked will probably hate it. That’s their loss. I wouldn’t call it the best film of the year, but it’s up there, and rightfully so. It doesn’t just get under your skin…it finds its way to the deepest corners of your core.

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A dark light grows brighter, syllables turn into words, something seems to come to life. Then in short, an alien (Scarlett Johansson) takes the form of a woman, calls herself Laura, and roams Scotland looking for her prey. She’s selective and seductive as she drives around in her unmarked van and draped in a heavy fur coat. Men pass by and as she talks to them we know what she’s after. The man has to be alone. Any sign of a family or loved ones and she abruptly leaves. To their credit, it’d be damn hard to turn down a ride from a woman like Ms. Johansson.

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She’s gorgeous and the men are horny; it’s a recipe for success. They’re lured to her home as she is chased down by another alien, taking the shape of a motorcyclist. Laura walks backwards, slowly undressing and begging the men to come to her, which they unfailingly do. But she stays afoot while the men unknowingly walk the plank to their doom in the form of an endless black pool. One by one they become trapped, floating naked next to other victims until they meet their demise. It’s important for me to not say how they’re killed. Paired with the perfect, nails on chalkboard like score, the moment when we discover their fate is downright unsettling.

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Finally, we have a sci-fi/horror story that actually has something to say. As Laura, the alien inhabiting her body slowly finds a sense of comfort in humanity. She sees herself in the mirror and stares, attempts to scarf down decadent cake before spitting it right back up, and releases a disfigured man from her hold to be free. So many of us chase the things we shouldn’t and purposefully choose the wrong path to go down. Of course I could be wrong, but that’s what it seems to be trying to convey. The lonely and pathetic men don’t necessarily chase Laura in particular, but rather the idea of being with such a beautiful woman. Likewise, Laura doesn’t  really want to be human. She’s just intrigued. Having a body and being desired have piqued her interest. For both parties, the final result doesn’t end well.

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This is a beautifully shot film, and to director Jonathan Glazer’s credit, he one hundred percent trusts the audience to be patient and watch what he shows us instead of just laying down his hand. It also helps to have Scarlett Johansson in the lead, giving yet another amazing display of acting. Hate her or love her, you can’t deny the woman’s raw talent. Her allure catches your eye while her performance bewitches your soul. Johansson is at turns hauntingly vulnerable and at others delicately austere, never relinquishing the firm grip she has on us.

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I couldn’t help but think of older films like 2001: A Space  Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. Those movies successfully tried to be different and to break cinematic barriers. This is entirely its own, taking place in the void of time and space in the storytelling landscape. I tried hard to not be sucked in, but like the sex-starved men strutting with their chests puffed out, I failed to stop myself from being utterly captivated by its stunning grace. Under the Skin will drown your head with thoughts, and you won’t mind a bit.

“Come with me.”

Rating: 4.5 out 5

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