REVIEW: Under the Skin

24 07 2014

Under the SkinUnder the Skin” has the perfect title, since it reflects not only the events of the film itself but also its effect on the audience.  Jonathan Glazer’s third feature, which has been nine years in the making, features Scarlett Johansson as an alien who quite literally steps into human skin to observe us and carry out a cryptic mission.  In the process, the film seeps underneath our own skin, lingering there for quite some time and demanding to be pondered.

Glazer absolutely beguiles with his unique bending of cinematic syntax to his will, compiling what amounts to a masterclass of technical control.  Through his unique confluence of image, montage, and sound, “Under the Skin” pulsates with a dreamlike cadence.  Several of the film’s most striking sequences unfold in solidly white or black spaces, furthermore contributing to a sense of hyperreality.

Though perhaps Glazer’s intentions are not always immediately clear, he keeps us beguiled throughout – and often ravished.  He follows Johansson’s siren of the Glasgow streets, picking up and picking off men with the assistance of a strange motorcyclist, with an attention that’s languorous rather than laboriously plotted.

Our access into her head comes not through any words penned by screenwriter Walter Campbell; it arises from the curious gaze of Johansson.  Or, it surfaces from Mica Levi’s hauntingly hypnotic score, which feels like a second script for “Under the Skin” in itself.  Though it may not spark a connection in your heart, it will send a tingle up your spine.

Under the Skin still

Glazer and Johansson’s seduction of the screen does let up some in the second half of the film, however.  The film’s especially languid pacing begins to take its toll on the back end as Johansson’s character acts less and looks inward more.  As a result, “Under the Skin” releases some of the perfectly pent-up tension that had been built so expertly from the outset.

But while it does flag towards the conclusion, the film still has plenty of surprises left to entrance us.  Glazer experiments with incorporating various avant-garde elements throughout “Under the Skin,” seemingly grafting in a Brakhage short or two along the ride.  And all in all, I left the film feeling refreshed that someone decided to push the boundaries of cinema towards their breaking point.  B+3stars


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