Tuesday, April 22, 2014

[Film] Under the Skin (2014)

This is another film with a somewhat vampiric theme. It is also a low budget Scottish film in which Scarlet Johansson plays an alien or something who drives a van around Glasgow luring young men to their deaths. As well as the more intelligent of vampire films, it also reminds me of Upstream Color, in that it does not bother to over-explain what is going on, with many key elements remaining unclear at the film's close. So although we see that Scarlet Johansson's unnamed character is some kind of inhuman creature preying on the single men she picks up, we never really learn why she is doing this or where she has come from. Likewise, we can see that the man on the motorbike (and the other men on motorbikes who appear in one brief scene) clearly have some association with her, but its precise nature is never made plain. And the scenes in which the men she predates on meet their doom - are these literal depictions of their fate or just metaphors?

Like so much else of this film, the ending is a bit odd. The Johansson character seems to discover some kind of humanity after sparing a victim suffering from a pretty extreme facial disfigurement but then has a bit of a breakdown. Eventually she ends up in a forest where she is attacked by a perv, but once he discovers her true nature he douses her in petrol and sets fire to her (spoilers). Was this meant to be some kind of ironic reversal - female alien sexual predator falls victim to tawdry male human sexual predator? Either way I was uncomfortable with this. Depictions of human sexual criminals are distasteful to me in a way that ones of vampiric aliens are not. And I was also unclear as to what stopped the alien doing to the perv what she had done to the hapless Glaswegian men.

One thing I did like was the alien woman being English while everyone else was Scottish (apart from a Slovakian guy) and blessed with largely incomprehensible Glaswegian accents. This allowed Johansson to show off that unlike most American actors she can do accents. It also accentuated the difference between her and the people around her, but by giving her an English accent closer to what is the centre of gravity of the bourgeois London controlled anti-Scottish media the alien ends up seeming more familiar and normal than the humans she predates upon.

The film is also like Upstream Color in that it uses sound and music most effectively in conjunction with its careful visuals. And like the lead in that film, Johansson has interesting hair, though not hair as interesting (and possibly a wig, unlike the three lovely hairstyles sported by Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color) But this does bring me to another thing about Under the Skin. It has in some quarters been billed as an exciting opportunity to get your eyeful of Johansson's naked body, but I reckon that if you had gone to see it on that basis you would leave the cinema rather disappointed. I would like to think that this is not why I too found the film a bit on the boring side while watching it and initially concluded it was not all that. In retrospect, though, I find myself liking it more and more, its unexplained elements intriguing me rather than leaving me feeling like this is a film half-finished.


I saw Upstream Color

"How Scarlett Johansson helped me challenge disfigurement stigma" (Guardian interview with Adam Pearson)

image source (review on Glide Magazine website)

An inuit panda production

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