Release Date: 14th March 2014
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlet Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Jessica Mance
Scarlett Johansson comes to town and you’d think everybody would sit up and take notice. A young, attractive Hollywood star wandering the streets of Glasgow – you would notice, right? Well apparently not, and that was exactly what director Jonathan Glazer was counting on whilst filming his most recent release, Under the Skin.
A dizzying and sublime mix of the mundane and the strange, the film once again recounts that age-old tale: formless, sexless alien takes up residence in one of Glasgow’s more affordable suburbs (in an abandoned shell of a house but hey, each to their own), adorns herself in a prosthetic skin and a cheap pair of heels and makes it her mission to get as many virile young men as possible back to her place. Unfortunately for her would-be suitors, this particular brunette’s preference is less about a mutual sweaty climax and more to do with the abduction and disposal of them one by one into a dark and viscous abyss – not your average Joe’s typical first date, then.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, a beautiful girl attempting to gain the attention of the men of Glasgow turns out to be a fairly straightforward pursuit; capturing her many admirers’ natural reactions on film is where the real talent lies. Under the Skin is a study in human behaviour and in order to effectively alienate Johansson’s character from society, a truly primal response to her was necessary. With this in mind, Glazer sent his famous lead out onto the streets on Glasgow, armed simply with a wig, an accent and a white transit van with built in cameras. The majority of the men she approaches are totally unaware they are being filmed so their reactions are real and often inherently funny: a young guy wandering through Govan when a girl with a posh English accent pulls up in a panelled van – she’s pretty and seems vaguely familiar – of course he can tell her where the M8 is (straight through the roondabout, past the big Asda – ye cannae miss it).
While part of the film’s beauty comes from this sharply-observed sense of familiarity, it is Glazer and cinematographer, Daniel Landin’s juxtaposition of the Other that provide the truly breathtaking scenes. Once inside (and away from the grey and worn-out city landscape), the alien’s surroundings expand; the van’s interior now a startling bright white, the grubby tenement a vast and foreboding pool of black. The alien’s silhouetted form provides stark contrast in the blinding light of the van but slides with ease into the darkened abyss. A siren on the rocks, Johansson is mesmeric – her lithe movement and hollow gaze hold your attention as victim after victim quietly disappears into the void with nary a sound.
Glazer’s black and white extraterrestrial world contrasts and slowly combines with the everyday Scottish shades of grey in a film reminiscent of both Kubrick and Loach. Beautifully shot and perfectly scored, Under the Skin is a film in which to immerse yourself entirely: step forward, let go and sink into this alien perception of the everyday. You never know, it just might make a new person out of you.