It is tough to put into words the captivating spell that Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin has over its audience. Just like the hapless men trapped in Scarlett Johansson’s seductive web, there is a strangeness to the film that is too irresistible to pass up. Similar to the equally ambitious Upstream Color, Glazer’s film is a masterful piece of science fiction that will surely cause many to scratch their head in confusion.
Loosely based on the novel by Michel Faber, the story revolves around an alien, Laura (played by Johansson), who is on a mission in Scotland. What is the purpose of this mission? The answer is never quite clear, but what is apparent is the fact that she spends her days roaming around the Scottish landscape in search of single men. Pretending to be a lost, she uses her sexual charms to lure the men back to her home. Once there the men are trapped in a mysterious pool of water until they are ripe to become, what one can only assume is, some sort of sustenance. Coldly going about her job, a chance encounter with a man with a deformity will cause Laura to observe mankind with a different set of eyes.
To divulge any more about the plot would spoil the overall experience. Like most things in Under the Skin, Glazer leaves much for the audience to decipher on their own. This allows him to put the audience in Laura’s shoes and view humans through alien eyes. Of course this approach will not sit well with everyone, as the limited use of dialogue and methodical pacing will no doubt annoy some. Regardless, Glazer creates a hypnotic film that manages to remain captivating despite the drastic tonal shifts it takes throughout. The latter half, in particular, is very powerful as Laura essentially becomes a victim of what was once her source of empowerment. It perfectly emphasizes the themes of humanity and the power of female sexuality that are central to the film.
Glazer contrasts his contemplative themes with an astounding visual and audio experience. Everything from the opening moments when we see Laura’s earthly form come into being to the film’s startling ending is a visual treat. The centrepiece of which is the mesmerizing seduction sequence in which the walk to Laura’s bed resembles a sleek stroll down a catwalk. Like unassuming prey walking into quicksand, the men are slowly pulled under while hypnotized by Laura’s allure. The ominous score in the film wonderfully accentuates the chilling magnetism that both Laura, and the film itself, manage to cast.
It is hard not to think of great science fiction films like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when viewing Under the Skin. Glazer creates a film that is both wonderful and perplexing at the same time. The images are unforgettable and Glazer’s choices within the film, including incorporating moments of hidden camera footage, will no doubt be analyzed for years to come. Under the Skin is a difficult film to decode after one mere viewing. However, its challenging nature is what makes the film so rewarding. It is the type of film in which every viewer will come away with their own interpretation of what Glazer is trying to say. Breathtakingly original, Under the Skin provides a visceral experience that you will not soon forget.