Tom Jolliffe double bills Species and Under The Skin…
The sexy siren, luring men to their inevitable doom by taking on the form of a gorgeous woman. Like cats to catnip, the men salivate their way to demise. In one corner we have Species, the tale of a scientific splicing of human and alien DNA that has gone awry. When the subject is to be terminated she escapes, beginning as a young Michelle Williams before cocooning herself in a train and emerging as Natasha Henstridge. She sets about luring the men in order to procreate.
In the other corner is Jonathan Glazer’s arthouse horror Under The Skin which sees Scarlett Johansson on the prowl for men, luring them in with the carrot on stick allure of fornication, before leaving them to be ingested and devoured by a higher being she’s working for. Both films that had an impact on me for different reasons (at different times in my life) and work oddly well as a double bill because of those polarising approaches to a similar idea. To add a further note, if you also wanted to triple bill, throw in the barking mad Cannon classic Lifeforce about a space vampire luring men to their untimely doom.
Coming out in the mid 90’s when I was but a young teenager, Species obviously had a certain appeal. It was just one of those movies that gained traction across the playground grapevine along with Showgirls, or Basic Instinct. Species in fact had the added bonus of being a sci-fi horror with a lot of delightfully gruesome visual FX on top of all the bare chested shenanigans of Henstridge.
Having not seen it in around 20 years, revisiting Species was something of a pleasant surprise. Not only did it give me ample opportunity to remember a simpler time in mid-90’s genre film where Henstridge was something of a staple (this came not long before her team up with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Maximum Risk), but I could cast my eyes afresh on Roger Donaldson’s prime piece of B movie fare. You know what? The film, some poor attempts at a CGI laden finale aside (as was the wont in that era), has actually aged well. As a piece of pulpy B movie fun it’s got plenty to recommend.
Firstly, there’s the cast. Joining Henstridge is a solid melange of actors, some of whom were perhaps drawn by the paycheck, but never resort to phoning it in, whilst in the case of Michael Madsen, it gave him a prominence of role he often didn’t get in big budget films. By this point he’d usually be a bad guy, an antagonist, or he’d be more prominent as a video specialist. There’s very few who can do nonchalant, no fucks given stoic attitude like Madsen and here, still on the crest of the Reservoir Dogs wave, he’s pretty magnetic. A pre-CSI Marg Helgenberger, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina and Forest Whitaker all get to say silly things with a straight face, but their respective charisma offers a lot of gravitas for a film like this. Henstridge too, a kind of pre-Jovovich, Jovovich is good in the role and not just a pair of walking boobs. Like Jovovich, she’s more talented than people tended to give her credit for.
Throw in the HR Geiger creature designs, some nice old school VFX and Species is a lot of fun.
Under The Skin
This is not fun… That being said, Jonathan Glazer’s art-house horror has widely been considered one of the most engaging and alluring sci-fi films of the last decade. It often appears in top films of the 21st century lists, although among general film fans the appeal isn’t quite as strong.
Like many films of its ilk, and I guess having A24 among its distributors tells you a lot, it’s a film difficult to firmly place and thus firmly market. Perhaps people went in expecting more scares, or expecting more of Scar-Jo in her birthday suit. You don’t particularly get scares, but like a lot of great mood pieces, it creates a constant sense of discord, or expectant dread. Filmed almost voyeuristic in style (including some sections filmed with hidden camera), the film feels like a constant eavesdrop, whilst the score from Mica Levi is filled with relentless dread. The film certainly captures the city life of Glasgow well, as well as the beauty of the more remote Highland spots also featured in the film. It’s a nice contrast.
Johansson says very little but evokes so much as the alien being slowly finding herself beginning to understand human emotion. There are a lot of shots of just Scar-Jo cruising in her van looking for her prey, but she manages to make it fascinating. The film won’t be for everyone, whilst some of the vagueness of the alien/creature(s) themselves may take a couple of viewings to further decode, but if you can give yourself over to it, the film is ultimately rewarding and leaves you with plenty to analyse.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/