Under The Skin (2014)

Directed By: Jonathan Glazer
Written By: Walter Campbell
  Michel Faber
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Under The Skin

So, let’s talk about the best film of 2014.

Yes, it’s a horror movie.

No, it’s not typical.

It’s neither a big budget flick nor an indie horror.

…It is, quite simply, an experience: art house mixed with horror.

The film I’m talking about is, of course, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin – have I already mentioned that it’s the best film of 2014? Well, it’s worth reinforcing. The film is based on a novel which was thought to be pretty much impossible to adapt (probably to a similar extent as Burroughs’ Naked Lunch). But what really makes Under the Skin special is that it is not only extraordinarily well made with a super, massive, mesmerizingly awesome soundtrack; it is also just a brilliant concept. The simplest way to describe its magic is that it is like a very, very arty version of Donaldson’s Species. And if this turns you off, well then please stop reading right here and now because Species is, undeniably, a great film. That said, Under the Skin is like Species times googolplex (eg. muuuuch better).

The alien is played by Scarlett Johansson, who, between this film, Captain America and Her, is on a career high. Obviously Under the Skin is not a Hollywood film, so one might wonder why she’s in it. I like to think that she makes Marvel films for the money, so that she can have some fun with art house and indie pieces like this. Who knows? Either way, this is not the Scarlett you think you know – not the Photoshopped Hollywood star we see in glamour magazines and big-budget whatevers. In Under the Skin, she is simply a tremendously talented actress, far more natural and pared-back (and therefore more attractive, for what it’s worth) than her previous incarnations, playing a real person as opposed to a glamorized Hollywood sex symbol. Johansson’s brilliant characterisation makes the film something special.

The most interesting aspect of the film, however, is that the majority of the people shown are real people from the streets, not actors. Many of the scenes were filmed with hidden cameras and the cinematographer Daniel Landin even developed a special camera to shoot some of the scenes. As I said before, this film is an experience, and a great one for film lovers – a very interesting piece of work that (surprisingly) works well. Glazer’s style is uncanny and uncomfortable and it often reminded me of Kubrick without the big budget. The soundtrack is not really ‘music’ – there are no discernible tracks – but instead hypnotic and psychedelic sound effects that kind of drag you into this world until you become a part of the film, much like the main character wants to become a part of the earth.

I’m certain that Under the Skin will be labelled pretentious by many – and maybe it is, but that doesn’t really matter because it is, at its core, an art project. By its very nature it doesn’t want to be entertaining, it just wants to be: like the alien in the film just wants to exist. And we, as the audience, are allowed to be a part of the ride. It might not be a big film, it might not be an expensive film, but people will certainly be talking about Under the Skin for years to come. And, much like Kubrick’s 2001, you will either love it to pieces or hate it with a passion, but everyone should watch it at least once. As for me, I just can’t wait for the Blu Ray.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★

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