The allure of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is similar to that of its central character, the mysteriously stoic brunette, played with astounding clarity by Scarlett Johansson. In the movie, she’s seen driving around Glasgow to pick up lonely men for sinister purposes.
Her modus operandi sounds eerily familiar. She first observes her surroundings, checking out on individuals who fit the profile of her suitable prey – usually lonely, desperate men. She then closes in on her target, opening with whatever excuse to initiate a conversation, whether it be a request for directions or an offer for a ride. Once her prey’s inside her truck, she subtly throws compliments, hinting about the rare opportunity for a hook-up.
She would then take her catch to her apartment, which on the outside looks like any normal pad, but on the inside, is suspiciously pitch-black. She takes off her clothes one by one, prompting her man to do the same. Like a rabbit inching towards a juicy carrot, the man proceeds to walk towards what he presumes to be his prize before being submerged completely in some form of liquid, to suffer the consequences of his impromptu lustful desires.
Under the Skin communicates the woman’s charming awkwardness and provocative quality. Glazer does not readily drape his film with the typical patterns of genre cinema. Instead, he patiently lays down elements of suspense one by one, without giving away too much too quickly.
The film is bizarrely beautiful. From the unsettling views of either the countryside’s empty spaces or the city’s peopled nooks to the otherworldly interiors of the woman’s lair, Under the Skin, thanks largely to cinematographer Daniel Landi’s exquisite lensing,never lets go of its bewitching, enigmatic mood.
Mica Levi’s evocative score, which is essentially composed of counterpoints of strings and percussions that are neither melodic nor cacophonous, adds further tension to Glazer’s masterful machinations.
There is always that sense that Glazer is intrigued by the scarce humanity of his eccentric muse. It is that same intrigue that dominated his previous features, Sexy Beast (2000), and Birth (2004), all of which feature characters who are defined by acts that raise questions as to their humanity.
However, the triumph of Under the Skin against Glazer’s previous efforts is that it was able to produce hints of humanity from someone or something that never had it in the first place.
The narrative of Under the Skin starts out with the woman as nothing, just a small speck of light growing into what will be Johansson’s eye, magnified to look more like a visual spectacle rather than a human part. The woman’s first act is to undress her first victim, another woman, to steal her clothes. She notices her victim’s tear, dripping from the lifeless eye, but is oblivious to the emotion. She, however, is fascinated by the ant she picks up from her victim’s naked body.
The woman commits further acts of violence. It is clear that she is without conscience, motivated only by a mission Glazer is completely not interested in developing or at least showcasing. However, despite the lack of any sense of morality, she nevertheless develops a curiosity as to what drives her victims to their demise. She starts to truthfully acknowledge beauty, whether it comes from the soft hands of the disfigured man she encounters in one of her cruises, or her naked body she sees for the very first time in front of the mirror.
Surrendering to the very tool she utilizes for her acts of seduction, she shows glimpses of the humanity she will never ever gain. This is her downfall, and the predator becomes the prey. Like all the men she has led to drown, she is seduced by something she can never have.
Under the Skin is something close to a masterpiece. It carefully avoids all the pitfalls and eases of genre cinema to come up with something utterly unique. It is a film that unwaveringly starts with the absurd, only to end up with an observation that is as simple as it is profound. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.