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Under the Skin is sexy yet grotesque. It is realistic, yet also science fiction. How has this happened?
Based on the novel by Michael Faber, Under the Skin chronicles the self-destruction of a boy-devouring alien lady (Scarlett Johansson) in the midst of a fatal identity crisis.
Set against the stark, contemporary background of a Scottish city centre, Under the Skin follows Johansson’s murderous mission as she stalks, seduces, ensnares and envelops countless unsuspecting men.
The premise in its simplest form transforms ideas of ‘male predator, female victim’, as a sultry Scarlett cold-heartedly captures and consumes her naive male victims. Cruising the highways for lone, trusting men to whisk away never to be seen again; the method of our lethal protagonist highlights an ease and simplicity in predatory actions - a trustworthy face, a friendly question, a suggestive smile. The politeness with which willing victims accept her advances, foolishly assuming safety in their gender. In this bizarre yet familiar world, sexuality is a bargaining tool, a prize, a risk worth taking.
A female predator raises unusual questions, expectations and apprehensions. At times, I found myself worrying for her safety, alone on the road at night; heightened by a yob attack and unrelenting in the knowledge of her motives. Her character is so confused, dazed, absent that she retains vulnerability even when murderously stalking her unsuspecting and bewildered prey. Many of the actors playing Johansson's victims were genuinely unaware, having volunteered to be shot as extras with little knowledge of the plot or their role
The soundtrack, the plot, the cinematography - each fragment of the film contradicts itself; crowded Glaswegian high streets teeming with drunken youths vomiting in bins are set against crisp highland landscapes and surrealist, sci-fi darkness.
Visual and audio expressions go much further than dialogue; Johansson silently and hypnotically lures victims into an ink black abyss to the sound of deep, palpitation-inducing thuds. The range of emotions portrayed through a severe lack of dialogue only adds to the mounting tension. Dialogue is employed only through necessity, while the rest is left unsaid; even at the climactic close. Actions speak much louder than words throughout this remarkably unusual film.
Go and see it for the horror, the tension, the snap in the dark.