Friday, April 18, 2014

Under the Skin

I absolutely loved Under the Skin (dir Jonathan Glazer, 2013) and I think it is a real shame that so many people seem to have been put off going to see it by some of the reviews. It IS slow, with little dialogue, and it IS weird but it will also stay with you for a very long time.  Under the Skin is about vulnerability - human and alien; it is a masterpiece about life and humanity. Eerie, funny, horrifying and devastatingly sad in places.  

And it brings a whole new meaning to the concept of The Gaze.  We are forced to look our world (starting with Glasgow) through an alien lens.  

Ethan Gilsdorf on BoingBoing:  "According to the film's press materials, eight miniature cameras were built into the van's dashboard, headrests, and other hidden locations. They were all wired to equipment in the back of the van, behind a barrier, where Glazer and his team sat watching the eight camera feeds on monitors. Another vehicle followed the van, and after each scene with the men, a crew member would hop out to get release forms from all the accidental actors." 

I won't waste time here outlining the plot as that info is easily available elsewhere but I did just want to mention some of the things I liked about it.

  • There are literally dozens of elements to this film which remain unexplained and will keep you thinking for days afterwards - some aspects seem illogical, many are unconventional. This leaves it open to interpretation and fantasy - how often does that happen these days?  One example: we never find out the connection between the man/men on the bikes and Johansson's character
  • Glazer creates tension brilliantly - the sense of ScarJo hunting from her van in the streets of the town centre is superb
  • Some of the cinematography is breath-taking - not least the final scene. Absolutely beautiful!
  • This movie is incredibly slow in places. Scenes are drawn out apparently unnecessarily and this is largely what infuriated so many cinema-goers. I actually felt that this forced me to be properly submerged each scene and to contemplate what was happening - it was almost dreamlike in places
  • The music - characterised by many reviewers as a siren call - matches, and enhances, the seduction scenes. Insightful interview here with Mica Levi who wrote the soundtrack
  • Johansson is really good! I have never been much of a fan (partly because she butchered a load of Tom Waits's songs) but it is probably really hard to act well when you are an alien with a mostly blank expression.  She is very convincing, and has a flawless English accent. [This is one of the many inexplicable things about this movie is why she has been plonked in Glasgow with a posh English accent?]
  • The male actors are authentic and down-to-earth. Their thick Scottish accents help to remind us how foreign she is in this land and the contrast with her sleek, glamourous, immaculate beauty is pointed
  • My favourite review of UtS on IMDB:  "If you like looking at someone riding a bike up and down roads and someone driving a van, next to no speaking and just gloomy shots of a rainy city, no story, no beginning or middle and an end that is just plonked on you that even then has an annoyingly tedious length of time before the titles role (that I couldn't wait for)', then you will love this."
WARNING - the following definitely contains spoilers!  Matt sent me an email a few days after we had seen the film entitled: If Under the Skin was made by Hollywood....

There would have been a handsome male homicide detective trying to figure out what was happening to the missing men.

He would have met SJ and there would have been an edgy sexual chemistry between them. She would have tried to lure him to the house, but he would have gotten a phone call or some other interruption to her seduction that would have saved him in the nick of time.

He would have started to notice the correlation between her presence and the disappearance of the men.

He would have arrived at the beach too late to save anyone but the baby. He would have saved the baby.

He would have got into a big shoot out with the motorcycle men and rescued the elephant man from the trunk of the car.

He would have arrived too late to save SJ from getting burned, but would have shot the rapist. 

He would have cried, standing over her smouldering corpse.


  1. I really enjoyed this movie too, lol at the hollywood version. I should really start writing reviews of the stuff I watch, my blog for this course is a bit bare at the moment. I find that I forget I'm supposed to be doing anything but enjoying watching though.

  2. Hi Suzy, i find it hard to think about a critique while I am watching the movie too. I wouldn't worry about that. Have a notebook handy so you can scribble anything that stands out but I tend to just have a bit of time afterwards to record some basics. Think about the narrative structure, the mise en scene, the music etc and what you liked or didn't like and why. Reading the press reviews and audience critiques on IMDB helps remind of things I may have forgotten or not noticed while viewing. Like everything else, you need to try to apply it back to your own work which is when it gets challenging : )