Under the Skin, 2013.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Jessica Mance, Krystof Hádek, Scott Dymond, and Michael Moreland.
An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.
You pay your money and you take your seat. You wait impatiently for the adverts to finish and for the other patrons to shut up and respect the dimming lights which signal something is about to begin. You’re at the cinema and for the next X number of minutes you are at the hands of the film maker; you want at the very least to be entertained, but deep down you always want that thing which separates film from other art forms, and great films from simply ‘entertaining’ ones.
That thing is the experience. The experience of watching a film which begins to envelop before you realise it is happening, a film which pushes the medium to its limits regardless of budget, genre, star names or source material, a film where you are completely and utterly at its mercy.
Under The Skin is such a film.
I won’t tell you what it’s about or what happens because it’s my duty as a film lover to ensure I do my part to make this not merely spoiler-free but free of any hint of scene description, narrative development or my thoughts on ‘what it all means’. I freely admit that I do not know what Under The Skin is truly about, or why certain things happen to certain people, but I that would change little about my opinion on this sensational example of what can be achieved when a director has a vision and sticks to it without fear of causing confusion or contempt within the minds of some audiences.
From the opening sequence it is obvious this isn’t your average cinema experience. Director Jonathan Glazer is telling his story with lights, colours, sounds, shapes, still camera, moving camera because this is his design and I’d not been hit with such images at the cinema before. Certainly Glazer is influenced by Stanley Kubrick and many viewers will get a ‘Lynchian’ vibe from the relentlessly unsettling score and the fact that we never, ever know what is going to happen next. Glazer keeps his audience in a state of unease for every moment of every minute for 100+ minutes. Some of the imagery is genuinely disturbing and this isn’t something I say lightly. My heart was pounding not because I was scared but because I knew Glazer had me and I was trapped, not wanting to escape.
The film is avant-garde and experimental to the point of becoming what some may call pretentious, but to me the film was a visual experience which will last long after I get my thoughts down for you to read. I can’t recall when a film made such stunning use of shadows and darkness (both natural and artificial) as this. I want to watch it again on stunning Blu-ray in a room where light is not welcome and rejoice in the beauty of it all.
I want to see more film makers trying to tell their stories in new ways, if they have the talent to do so which Glazer so clearly has; after the straight forward but entertaining Sexy Beast and the much more artistic but less successful Birth, Glazer has made a film which he can forever be remembered for by those fortunate enough to see it.
For movies such as Under The Skin, which delighted the film lover in me, I will always come back to that word I’ve used several times already; Experience. It may not be my definition of a ‘perfect’ film after just one watch, but it’s my definition of why I still love the movies.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.