Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

Under the Skin

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on March 29, 2014 at 4:40 PM


Jonathan Glazer




IDEA:  A woman drives around the streets of Glasgow picking up men. Luring them to her pitch-black lair, she seduces them, quite literally, to their deaths.

BLURB:  Mesmeric then ponderous, fascinatingly oblique then frustratingly vague, Under the Skin is an entrancing curiosity, a dark sci-fi fable designed to induce shivers first and tease the mind forever after. The results can be mixed: for every magnificently oneiric visual – naked bodies literally being swallowed in gulfs of blackness, superimpositions that create nearly prismatic planes – there are stretches that seem to lack the same kind of purpose or vigor, stalling in places that should instead be serving to develop, or deepen, the film’s richly existential themes. At times, the ideas don’t feel fully borne out, or are otherwise unable to efficiently surface through Glazer’s abstractions. At others, the chilled moods and textures evoked by DP Daniel Landin spark them to life, slips of potent commentary on social and gender programming emerging miraculously from the void. When the film threatens to drift away in a gossamer wisp or become just another dreamy mood piece, it is grounded, finally, by a beguiling Scarlett Johansson, whose humanizing force ensures that the tricky ontological questions manage to register at all. How we can interpret her character’s strange, hurried self-awakening – the way she begins to understand her skin, her body, and what may or may not be going on beneath that exterior – is all thanks to Johansson’s subtly modulated behavioral cues. In the end, we, like her, will become all too aware of how insufficiently our appearances represent us, but also, somewhat tragically, how inseparable we are from them. Glazer doesn’t always get there, but the seeds he plants only grow the more one ponders.

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