For some Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin will be known as the best science fiction film since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. For others it will be known as the film where Scarlett Johansson gets naked, and will be famous to them for the screengrabs that revealed more than her leaked nude pictures. In fact, it’s likely that some will be familiar with images from the movie but will never see the film. Such is nudity in the internet era. Which is too bad as the film itself is a striking work, though the film is more interested in tone than narrative. My Under the Skin Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Assisted by a biker (Jeremy McWilliams), Johansson’s nameless protagonist comes from outer space and is given the clothing of a human. She then proceeds to drive around Scotland looking for men. Adopting a British accent, she asks people for directions as a come on, but finds more success at night. She takes these men she’s able to seduce into an apartment where the men fall into a black liquid which imprisons them and eventually absorbs them. But they go willingly. As is often the case in these sorts of movies, after an encounter with a deformed man (Adam Pearson) who’s never known the love of a woman, she finds that she’s no longer interested in her mission as she attempts to understand humanity and her sexuality.
From the get go, Glazer films the movie with an alien eye. The movie opens with something that seems to be a space voyage, but it’s hard to say exactly what’s happening. As was made famous during the making of, many of the people that Johansson interacts with had no idea they were being filmed, while no one suspected that the woman was actually Scarlett Johansson.
Johansson has two modes in the film, the person she pretends to be and the blank alien predator who is considering what’s happening to her. It’s a strong performance, and Johansson is captivating throughout, owning her nude scenes in a way that seems alien in a world where so many mainstream films are nervous about showing skin. It also plays to her strengths as it’s been a while since she’s had sexual chemistry with one of her co-stars, so that blankness, and then the “trick” of turning it on turns the alien into an actor. In that way the film comments on both Johansson and the objectification of starlets.
The film functions best as a tone piece, but that’s partly because once it hits a certain point it brings in its narrative concerns and becomes a little more familiar and a little less interesting. Glazer has a spectacular visual command, but there’s not too much under the surface of the narrative. This isn’t the sort of film where there should be or maybe could be something super deep about it, but that also makes the moment it turns more conventional a bummer because it achieves more when it’s intentionally vague. As a film about the male gaze, and the presentation of the unknowable object of desire it’s amazing. As a portrait of an alien presence trying to understand humanity it’s just pretty good. But then the movie rights itself a little as the film finds ways to make the film’s conclusion powerful and odd. It’s a singular work, and something that has grown on me since I first watched it. Resonant images can do that.
Lionsgate presents the film on Blu-ray with a digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The film was shot with some of the smallest cameras known to man, so the picture quality has some inherent limitations, though we’re miles away from early video-shot movies like Tadpole, etc. That noted, the transfer is gorgeous for what it is – for the most part you don’t notice the limitations — and the surround track is enveloping and strong. Extras are limited to ten featurettes (42 min.) on the making of the film, which mostly talk to the supporting crew, with Jonathan Glazer popping in for brief moments. Since the production of the film involved shooting wild and using non-actors, the stories about the production are fascinating.