“Under the Skin (2014)” Review

Extraterrestrial Scarlett Johansson drives around Glasgow picking up men in her van.

Why did I watch it?

“Extraterrestrial Scarlett Johansson drives around Glasgow picking up men in her van.” (I meant to see this in the cinema, but didn’t make it.)

Did it meet expectations?

In one respect, yes; Scarlett Johansson does indeed drive around Glasgow picking up men in her van, and that is every bit as satisfying as it should be. Quite what I expected beyond that, I’m not sure, but I assumed it would make some sort of sense. Under the Skin leaves you wondering, in the best possible way, what on Earth you’ve just watched.

It’s beautiful – both in the photography and the music (and, though they are infrequent, some superlative special effects). These combine with the central performances to create a mood of detachment, but there are strands of the narrative that are extremely compelling, which leave you intrigued (but not sated).

There’s a great sense of realism to the shots of Glasgow’s streets; which makes Johansson’s presence feel appropriately alien. That feeling when you stop amid a shopping centre and suddenly wonder what all these apparently busy and focussed people are actually achieving is perfectly realised as we watch over Johansson’s shoulder. After watching I discovered that the crew hid in the van and filmed in secret and that many of the cast are not actors at all.

Johansson’s character, when engaged in conversation, is one of those charming, friendly and assured people who can quickly get you at ease just by asking disarmingly direct and innocuous yet personal questions. Yet at other times she is vacant and even bemused by human life. During a scene full of human drama that cannot but engage the audience, she is, by contrast, completely unmoved. Until, that is, something occurs to kindle her curiosity – and she starts to find herself no longer as in control of events.

You should watch it if…

  • You thought 2001 contained too much exposition.

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You like your plot lines resolved.
  • You’re offended by nudity.

Next up: Batman Begins (2005)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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