Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin

People often say that Jonathan Glazer‘s Under The Skin is one of those films you’ll either love or hate, and while I understand the stark precautionary sentiment, I think there’s more shades of grey than a knee-jerk reaction towards either side of the fence. I loved what the film did with sound, atmosphere, imagery and expectations. I hated how it made me feel overall. Detached. Alienated. Confused. Uneasy. Cornered by otherworldly stimuli. For what it’s worth, that’s most likely the intention behind the whole thing, and I applaud the genius in achieving a goal of exquisite discomfort, but I doubt anyone could blame me when I say that it’s a film I’ll watch once, and only once. Glazer goes for less of a conventional narrative and more of a dread inducing screensaver aesthetic, moving glacially through a series of events that seem to be both cohesive and just out of reach, toying with audience perception for a mood piece that is the cinematic equivalent to a particularly intense bout of disassociation. Scarlett Johannesson is as scary and sexy as one could get, playing some type of alien creature on a quiet, merciless rampage in various areas of Scotland. Seducing, destroying and stockpiling the pilfered essences of several unfortunate dudes who wander into her proverbial spiderweb, she, or rather ‘it’, eventually experiences some kind of inner awakening and undergoes a paradigm shift clearly brought on by her ongoing affiliation with those strange and sneaky creatures called human beings. If I’m being vague, it’s on purpose; there’s no gift wrapped cliff-notes for this baby, it’s something that makes its imprint on you in a language too illusory to impart in words. I’m reminded of other science fiction films like Darren Aronofsky’s Pi or E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten in the sense that most of what we see, hear and feel is not pleasing to the senses at all. Many heady sci-fi films are engineered to elicit positive emotional response from an audience, via a cathartic score, engaging production design and very human stories. Films like this, and the aforementioned, go out of their way to come across as cold, uncomfortable and stranded in a mist of off-putting hysteria. It’s a bold move whenever it happens. In the case of this film, it’s to give us a sense of what it must be like for an alien being to be thrown in with our lot here on earth. From the shrill, rhythmically jagged score by Mica Levi, to Scarlett’s alluring menace, to the murky nocturnal photography to the half mumbled daze of near incoherent dialogue, it’s all there to move us several planes away from ‘normal’, and get under our skin (hey that’s the title). Does it work? One hundred percent, and kudos, as it’s as scarily disorienting as they come. Is it pleasant moviegoing? Miles from it, it’s a beast built to provoke a reaction, and if you don’t like what it bristles up in you, you won’t hastily rewatch it anytime soon. I know I won’t.

-Nate Hill

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