Monday, February 27, 2017

Short Take: Under the Skin

The sf-horror film Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer, isn't a thriller. It's an austere, deliberately paced character study about an earthbound alien (Scarlett Johansson) who begins to fancy that she's human. During the film's first act, she drives around the Edinburgh area picking up men. Promising sex, she takes them to an abandoned house where they are captured and disincorporated into plasma. The reason is never explained. However, the alien becomes fascinated with the human form she's adopted. She also begins to take pity on the men she preys on, and she develops a curiosity about human pleasures such as food and romantic love. She eventually finds herself fleeing the other aliens who accompanied her. Unfortunately, there's not a cheerful or affirming moment in the entire film. Johansson's performance isn't very expressive. By design, it runs the gamut from low-key to deadpan. The other actors, almost all of them non-professionals, don't make much of an impression. Glazer maintains a dour tone, with sunless imagery that emphasizes the windswept cold and wet of Scotland in autumn or late winter. The glumly ascetic take-me-seriously manner mutes the sensationalism--the picture is sex and violence from beginning to end--but it also empties the film of any emotional weight. The film is an impersonal, pretentious undertaking. The screenplay is credited to Walter Campbell and Glazer, from a novel by Michel Faber. Daniel Landin provided the gray-hued cinematography. The eerie, discord-heavy score is by Mica Levi.

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