Saturday, July 12, 2014

Film Review- Under The Skin

Nine years after his second feature Birth, Jonathan Glazer returns with his third feature Under The Skin. Beginning with a black screen that turns into a blue dot then a bright light.  A donut shape orb drifts across space then morphs into the pupil of the films main character an alien (Scarlet Johansson) who has come to earth Scotland to be exact and sets about her task of luring unsuspecting young men into a transit van then bringing them to a remote location to process them as food.

The men in the film are truly unsuspecting. The production is so freeform that most of the men did not even know at first that they were in a film.  Glazer outfitted the van with multiple cameras and voice recorders. Johansson loose instructions were to go out, drive around town, chat the men up and get them into the van. After they chatted for a while and reached the house the men were informed of the production and signed on to the film.

Glazer the former music video director uses his trademark remarkable visuals throughout the film.  The opening post opening credit scene is in a totally white room void of furniture, structure or walls. The only two persons on screen are Johansson and the body of a woman whose clothes she's about to borrow. The film has many passages with no scripted dialogue or sound.  Instead the regular rumble of people at a mall or a crowd exiting a football match form the background ambience.

The piece truly gets to high level eeriness when the men enter her house expecting that a sexual encounter is imminent as they follow the luring Johansson into the dark space only to sink slowly into  a vat of black ooze where they marinate until ready for processing. As a victim sinks Johansson stops, gathers her clothes, her alluring expression goes blank then she walks forward often right over the spot the man sank never giving him a second thought.

Johansson breaks new acting ground in the lead role. Armed with a brown short fur coat, black wig and a posh English accent. She drives around town, stopping to ask random men for directions, gathering information on them to ask more personal questions and using her charm to get them into the van. She is completely working without a net, her conversation skills with strangers becomes the basis for much of the films dialogue.

One particularly gripping scene occurs at a beach on a cold fall day. The alien meets a swimmer and engages him in conversation. One another part of the beach a failed rescue occurs. The alien watches the events performs a violent act then leaves an innocent bystander to fend for themselves. The waves  and a haunting metronome based beat forming the undercurrent to the action.

Glazer has crafted a unique movie going experience. The film is both benign and overwhelming all at the same time. The lack of dialogue and minimal score are two elements that serve the production well.  It is a film that I highly recommend and one to root for to encourage more filmmakers and actors to take chances on projects that literally do not follow a script or formula.

**** out of 4.

Under the Skin | Jonathan Glazer | U.K. | 2013 | 108 minutes.

Tags: Scotland, Sci Fi, female alien, method acting, non- actors, Parkhead, Celtic, Glasgow,  Transit Van, Hidden Camera.

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