Under the Skin (2013)

2:31 PM

The opening shots of Under the Skin are hauntingly alien in a Kubrickian giant-baby-approaching-jupiter kind of way. An empty spacescape fills the screen, accompanied by a hollow, echoing voice sounding out letters and syllables. Periods of extended silence are broken up by tense otherworldly clicks. The screen goes black. Scarlett Johansson drives a van around Scotland. 

I've seen Under the Skin twice now and I still don't fully understand what happened. Here's what I did get: The woman, played by Scarlett Johansson, picks up men to bring back to her place. Bringing guys back to her place to hook up? That's what I assumed Under the Skin was about and that's how the film was pitched to me. It's a gross oversimplification to say the least. What I quickly discovered was that while the woman may be picking up guys, the teeny tiny detail missing is that she's not exactly human, she's what can only be described as an alien siren. Guised to be irresistible to the opposite sex, the woman is specially trained at reeling in humans. And her swinging sex pad is in reality a lair where her victims, mid-undressing find themselves sinking into a black abyss. At first, the prolonged shots of ScarJo's inky-black cornerless lair seemed metaphorical when contrasted with the busy pedestrian shots of Scottish cityscapes, but unfortunately for her victims, it's a very real, tangible place. Horny boys are doomed. A more manageable title for this would be Earth Boys Are Easy

Under the Skin is engaging but frustratingly so. The Skyfall-esque visuals in the latter half of the film are incredible but its general lack of backstory or any semblance of a narrative is difficult to digest. Apparently the source material, a novel by the same name from 2000, reveals a much more complex universe than the one presented here. Objectively, I'd consider the screen version more of an experience than a traditional film, and I prefer it in that sense.

That doesn't answer the question though of why men are being brought to this place, and where they're ultimately being taken, and for what purpose. These questions are answered but so severely abstractly that you might not even realize they're being answered. Director Jonathan Glazer forgoes traditional explanation and instead plunges you into experimental asylum. But really, the focus isn't on the mechanics of the aliens' ploy, it's on the woman's growing understanding of human compassion and what it means to be human. 

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