Film Reviews

UNDER THE SKIN

By • Apr 10th, 2014 •

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Highly recommend UNDER THE SKIN. This article contains SPOILERS.

Are we all the same under the skin? Scarlett Johansson bares her skin and exposes what is below, to reveal her truth. From the first frame, it’s a visual and aural experience of light and dark, countered by the rapid succession of sound as human filtering attempts to discern and make sense. UNDER THE SKIN is true artistry starring Scarlett Johansson, directed by Jonathan Glazer, based on the novel The Skin, by Michael Faber.

Tribal markings, tattoos, and piercings serve as identifying elements and adornments exemplifying uniqueness or community. Scarlett’s skin is pure camouflage confirming that beauty is only skin deep as she is an extraterrestrial using earthen pulchritude as seduction to lure lone men to her wanton advances.

A roving white van deployed onto the streets of Glasgow with a pretty brunette driver seeks directions to felonious locations. The men are not vile villainous types, vagrants, or specimens of virility. Most are simply pedestrians in a subtle direction-giving, otherwise, casual fleeting moment. She innocently offers each a ride along the way. Masculine commitment to the sins of the flesh blinds any suspicion to her devious abduction mission, metered with such great success that Scotland Yard could never foil her terrestrial trappings.

The logistics of shooting in the van while on the streets employs a cinema verite/guerilla style approach. A camera system was created by London effects house One of Us, placing eight hidden lenses within the re-modified dashboard that were hardwired to the rear of the van. Johansson helmed the wheel with recently acquired skills to drive on the opposite side of the road and perfect an English accent. Shooting an A-list movie star incognito in a club and on the streets had a high rate of success as only a few people realized who was under the wig.

While the viewer ponders and slowly makes sense of what has been transpiring on the screen, the character is learning about her environment and evolving. The prolonged unfolding and understanding sets the stage for the second part of her journey, which is presented in traditional narrative form.

Luring the willful to her lair, the artistic dance-like, trance-like motions as the males follow the female to their unsuspecting fates in these eerily surreal segments resemble an insect mating ritual. Thoughtlessly undressing in a strange procession towards speculative copulation, the hapless suitors submerge and become “entombed” in some sort of plasmatic pool.

The sound design is deserving of Oscar’s nod. Wave Studios and Mica Levi’s score have created audio that is distinct and serves as a supportive element in the film where the main character, as well as the audience, co-exist as voyeurs. The musical movements do great justice to the film’s ominous tone. Trapped in this submersible alternate plane of the bizarre, the sound of attained movement punctuates the perilous situation.

As Johansson’s character becomes aware of her new being, she explores her surroundings and retreats from predatory mode to taking on the role of a fragile tourist susceptible to the elements and the evils of humanity. In the club scene, an overload of decibel driven sound and flashing points of light assault her. These harsh sounds and thrashing light explosions expose her timid nature. Not once had she displayed vindictiveness. Looking back at the beach, the use of the stone and the wailing child were emotionless mechanical motions. Once peering into the mirror, her evolution had begun. Immediately, the baited and deformed sad soul bound for the grocery store was granted a pardon and released. Now, alone and off the grid from her kind, her undetected whereabouts leave her defenseless.

Exposed to the harshness of the landscape, an innocuous male befriends the silent and withdrawn visitor during her epistemic journey. It’s a rare occurrence to side with a character that has victimized innocents abroad. It’s a committed, non-judgmental relationship facilitating the ability to switch allegiance from humanity to the non-human.

The horror that she endures is at the hands of the human animal wroth in brutality and depraved sexual sickness. UNDER THE SKIN is a parable for the truth of what capabilities lay beneath the exterior of man. We learn what was under the skin as her vulnerability leads to absolute revulsion of our species.

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