Friday, April 11, 2014

Under the Skin Movie Review

Scarlett Johansson shines in Under the Skin

Invasion of Scarlett Johansson

I hold Rotten Tomatoes in high regard; but its consensus review of Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is so way off, so condescending... It's enough to me scream. 'Its message may prove elusive for some, but with absorbing imagery and a mesmerizing performance from Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin is a haunting viewing experience.' What's so "elusive" about a sexy alien, snatching male bodies over and over (and over) again, before having a change of "heart?" Dante's Inferno is elusive: Under the Skin is Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a conscience. Not quite the same thing, is it? Glazer's third film (after Sexy Beast and Birth) is indeed haunting to watch; but it's more a result of repetitiveness than originality.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: An alien (Johansson) in human form is on a journey through Scotland.

Hmm... that's not much of a summary, is it? Said alien's journey consists of picking up single dudes, luring them to strange, out-of-the-way places, then watching as they get sucked into a mysterious black pool of "God only knows what." Eventually the alien gets bored with her job, and starts exploring.

What’s Best: ScarJo is a joy to watch (obviously) and her toned-down sexuality is enough to get me in her car... even after seeing this movie. She speaks volumes without saying much at all; but is at her best in the second half of the film, once she decides to "slip off the grid." Few actors are able to hide their emotions as well as the 29-year-old BAFTA award winner (Lost in Translation.) Even fewer, whilst naked (yes, she's naked... Let's pretend to be cool about it, shall we?)

Give Glazer credit for some good through all this. Under the Skin is genuinely creepy, and sufficiently confusing (which some mistake for "elusive.") By limiting the dialogue, and hiding where these poor Scots are winding up... Glazer provides moments of pause and wonder. Cinematographer Daniel Landin fills in the rest with sleepy scenes of Scotland's byways and highways.

What’s Not: The first few "pick-ups" are interesting; but after a while, it's like watching a hot chick on a paper route. Instead of tossing out newspapers, she's taking in stray, horny guys. For those who aren't used to hearing Scottish, you might want to wait for the DVD release (and the subtitles option.) Glazer keeps us in the dark for far too long: Can the alien kiss? Can she kick ass, if she has to? Where does she come from? Even scenes with potential (such as a group of violent punks trying to break into ScarJo's car) fizzle out in seconds... just in time for another poor sap to hop into her death-mobile.

Best Line: There's hardly any talking; but I loved the exchange between Johansson's alien and a modern Elephant Man. ScarJo picks the latter up on his way to a grocery store late at night. After taking him elsewhere, he innocently asks, 'This isn't Tesco, is it?' to which ScarJo replies, 'You're uncomfortable, aren't you?' Without skipping a beat, he replies, 'No, (I) just want to go to Tesco.'

Overall: I was excited to see Under the Skin (not for Glazer, but to see Johansson tackle something new... something different.) Scarlett doesn't disappoint, and shows she's more than just a pretty face (and body.) Unfortunately, the film's pace is unnecessarily slow and ultimately too smart for its own good. Holding things back doesn't provide mystery per se. Rather than see the fifth or six victim slip into Glazer's mysterious, liquid quicksand... Let's see what happens to them after. We finally catch a glimpse of what's under; but not enough to sufficiently explain what's going on (in detail.) I'm normally a fan of British cinema; but this is one idea that would play out better from an American point of view.