“Is it worth paying for a ticket?”: Under the Skin (2014)

under-the-skin-poster-800x1185Finally released in cinemas after ten years in development, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2014) is a film that will stick in your mind for a very long time. It tells the story of a beautiful female alien (Scarlett Johansson) who arrives in Scotland with a job to do. She is charged with the task of seducing lonely men and taking them to her home, but for what purpose? Over the course of the film, one of her conquests leads her towards a process of self-discovery that neither she nor the audience would ever have predicted.

I saw Under the Skin a little while ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Something about it that has stuck with me and caused me to think about it at random times of the day – the amazing score by Mica Levi, Scarlett Johansson’s minimal yet very communicative performance, the bleak landscape, and its strange and haunting ending. This is one of those films where all the creative aspects fit together perfectly and there isn’t anything out of step. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and really shows off the beauty of rural and seaside Scotland. The direction by Jonathan Glazer is alternately beautiful and brutal, kind of like the alien herself. One scene where a baby is left out in the cold on a beach lingers for just a second too long, and you can tell that Glazer wants to make people feel a distinct amount of discomfort. I loved his shotmaking and his minimalistic storytelling. His direction during the final scene of the film was completely mindblowing.

One thing I worried about as I was watching this film though was the way the story was about to develop. About one third of the way in, I assumed that the film would be repetitive, and filled with numerous scenes where Scarlett Johansson as the beautiful alien seduces and disposes of many young men. But this act of the alien seducing the young men, and the fact that it’s done a number of times, is portrayed eventually quite minimally so that the audience doesn’t get bored with it. This is the alien’s job, so she’s bound to be shown doing it a number of times, and I felt the way this was handled was quite clever. I was really wrong in thinking that the pacing might stall. Under the Skin is not just about a sexy alien, and it focuses on a different aspect of the alien’s existence and self-perception from the mid-point onwards. Plus, once you find out what actually happens to the men that she’s seducing, you feel so repulsed that you almost can’t look away.

under-the-skin-trailer-scarlett

Scarlett Johansson carries this film as the main character, the alien, who hardly ever speaks. In fact, the majority of the dialogue comes from scenes where the alien is luring men into her car and onwards to her house. Some people might be interested to see her numerous nude scenes, but these are done in such a clinical way that they never feel sexual or gratuitous. I’ve never seen Scarlett Johansson in a role like this before and I’m way more interested in her now as a result. She perfectly conveys what it presumably feels like to be an alien within a human shell, attempting to look, talk, and act like a human but clearly having the mind and physical perception of something unhuman. She communicates all of this information through nuanced and subtle facial expressions and physical movements that you almost miss out on if you’re not paying attention. This is an incredibly complex character and Johansson completely pulls it off.

This was a great film to watch in the cinema because having the amazing imagery up on a big screen with the sound design and musical score blasting through a surround sound system was so immersive. Because there isn’t much dialogue, sometimes it felt like a bit of sensory overload, as the music and visuals almost replace the dialogue and are relentless. There is also so much tension at times in this film that I almost wished I had a remote control to pause it for a couple of moments to compose myself. The pacing is tenacious, and some moments are just brutal; not necessarily in a violent way (although there is some of that), but in a massively bleak and depressing way.

I really loved this film for reasons I can’t definitively pinpoint. It ticked all the boxes in terms of the films that I like – generally introspective with a strange story and beautiful music and visuals. Scarlett Johansson’s performance was mesmerising and will bewitch the viewers of this film just like the men she picks up off the side of the road. But what impressed me the most about Under the Skin was how it made me feel as the credits were rolling – my mind was absolutely blown and I was totally unable to express it verbally. This film will undoubtedly polarise viewers due to its method of storytelling, its themes, and its more graphic moments, but is it worth paying for a ticket for it? Absolutely.

Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes. (But not if you get fidgety in films that don’t have a lot of dialogue.)
Watch the trailer here.

Watch this film at Amazon!

47 comments

  1. I love when you find a film you really like but can’t pin point why. Makes reviewing it harder though!

    1. I love it too! But you’re right, when it comes down to actually putting it into words it’s difficult. I would have drawn a picture but that wouldn’t have worked out either!

  2. Glad you liked it so much! Scarlett’s performance was definitely amazing and so detailed. I wish they stayed more faithful to the novel but it was still a very unique movie.

    1. Loooved it. As a result of your review I think I’m definitely going to read the book!

  3. Nice one, cool you enjoyed this. Hands down one of the best films of the year so far, for me!

    1. Definitely one of the best films of the year for me too. It was just so unique!

  4. I have this one to watch, maybe tonight after reading your review!

    1. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! It’s a cracker of a film.

  5. You didn’t feel like the pace/tension let up some towards the end? I still loved the film but found the first half way more interesting.

    1. No way, I was on the edge of my seat by that point! I was more concerned that it would get a bit repetitive after the first half, so it was interesting to see it go in a different direction.

  6. This film is amazing.

  7. It’s really a masterpiece. Best film of the year so far and probably the most haunting film I’ve seen since Incendies.

    1. I’m still thinking about it! Completely haunting, I keep thinking back to that amazing score as well.

  8. Loved it too, but I know enough people who would hate this with a passion and I understand why they would.

    1. I totally agree, there are heaps of elements of the film that people would absolutely hate, but I find paradoxically really interesting. Half the comments on Youtube are people saying stuff like “This was soooo boring”! Kind of shows that most people don’t deal well without too much dialogue or with a fairly silent lead character.

  9. “… is a film that will stick in your mind for a very long time.”

    Oh, ain’t that the truth! Truly haunting. Wonderful review.

  10. Similarly loved it. I think it’s the best film of the last several years. Plus, it nabbed me an interview with Michel Faber, so I love it on two counts now.

    1. Wow, that’s awesome! I’m off to read your interview now. 😀

  11. Oh gosh, I want to see this NOW!

    1. You have to see this, it’s amazing!

  12. “She perfectly conveys what it presumably feels like to be an alien within a human shell, attempting to look, talk, and act like a human but clearly having the mind and physical perception of something inhuman.” <—- THIS!!! Yes, this sums up my thoughts on Scarlett Johansson's performance perfectly!

    I'm so glad to see more and more people falling for this one, it's so bizarre but it's unlike anything I've ever seen. Glad to know others are feeling the same, although I realize how divisive it really is

    1. Thanks Tom. 🙂 Loved this film so much, and I agree, its story and general approach to storytelling is so unique. Can’t get over how amazing Scarlett Johansson was as well. Definitely not for everyone though!

  13. Great review! I’m itching to see this. I know there’s a chance I’ll hate it but I still really want to see it!

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I would love to read your thoughts on it if you do end up seeing it!

    2. Have you seen Under The Skin yet? I finally did and really liked it. I know we often agree! : )

      1. I still haven’t got round to seeing it! It’s the kind of thing that everyone I know will hate so I need to find some time on my own to watch it!

  14. […] that I watched this month (and possibly my favourite of the whole year) was Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2014). I just can’t stop thinking about it. Sati of the wonderful Cinematic Corner wrote a […]

  15. Great review, I keep feeling like I am on the fence about seeing this one, but I may have to go check it out.

    1. Thanks Melissa, you definitely have to see this!!

  16. Oh! I’m so glad this popped up in “related articles” or I’d have missed it. I’m so behind on reading blogs! : ( I’ve just watched & reviewed this too. Been wanting to see it for AGES ever since no cinema near me was showing it. I really liked it. Everyone seems to but it’s hard to explain why! : )

    1. Haha! I agree, it’s difficult to pinpoint why this film is so good, especially when it sounds really strange when describing it to people! Definitely one of those special films that eludes understanding but is all the more compelling for it.

  17. […] under the skin worth seeing? Yes, absolutely. Under the Skin (2014) is a pretty amazing film that I haven’t really stopped […]

  18. […] film released in 2014: Under The Skin When I looked back on all of the films I had seen this year, one special film stood out as something […]

  19. Reblogged this on FILM GRIMOIRE and commented:

    Here’s another sneaky reblog of a vintage review from Film Grimoire. I’m experiencing quite a bit of writer’s block at the moment, hence the semi-regular reblogging, and I’m unsure exactly why that is. I’m currently trying to figure that out! In any case, I found myself gazing out the window at work the other day, thinking about this film and its mindblowing ending and how much I enjoyed it. So even though this isn’t a new piece from me, I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

  20. I love this film too. I’ve been telling my friends to watch it but as far as I know, they didn’t. I told them that it’s a weird film. Weird but beautiful. I really like Johansson’s performance and I totally agree with you about the ending.

    1. ‘Weird but beautiful’ is the perfect description for this. Such a strange one, yet completely mesmerising. Just like ScarJo’s alien!

  21. Love the re-blog concept, because this film is definitely worth revisiting! Definitely love ScarJo, and this was one of my top movies of that year 🙂 Great review!

    1. Thanks heaps Courtney! This film was just amazing. Definitely one of those films that creeps its way into your subconscious, totally unforgettable.

  22. Ach, I hate writer’s block. Great review though, couldn’t agree more with pretty much everything you said. I bought this as soon as it came out.. it is so re-watchable!

    1. Thanks heaps Jordan! This is one I’ll have to buy on DVD one day. I think about it all the time!

      1. I watched it last night, so much stuff I didn’t remember. Mainly the use of silence, its so creepy!

  23. […] film that will stick in your mind for a very long time. To describe the film’s synopsis using a previous post of mine: It tells the story of a beautiful female alien (Scarlett Johansson) who arrives in Scotland with a […]

  24. Hey Anna 🙂 This is a brilliant brilliant review! It’s as if its glowing just like the movie itself. I was redirected here by your recent post, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Under the skin got a 7/10 for me and I loved Landin’s cinematography to Glazer’s vision to Scarjo’s acting right down to Mica’s haunting tunes. It’s the one and only film that still baffles me even till today, which is a good thing but also kind of makes it more flawed.

    It was frustrating trying to catch all the little things like trying to figure out what in the hell were those people cleaning up her mess (I had to look up the net to understand they were aliens too) and some aspects made the plot very hard to follow. I had problems with the end too because I felt it tried to be too artful for its own good. I didn’t see how the nilhilistic end produced any kind of meaningful message, it essentially ends up where the film started…that same superficiality in humans and dangerous interactions never change, Scarjo’s story isn’t that significant.

    That being said, it had many great imageries….e.g. the alien who sheds a dying tear at the start which depicted weakness in emotion, the encounter with the disfigured male, the rose pricking her skin, the red watery depths of death 😉 , the unveiling of her inner alien…so beautiful. I just wished it was more explicit and focused.

  25. […] by Jóhann Jóhannsson; which somewhat reminded me of Mica Levi’s strange, unique score for Under the Skin (2014). Direction by Denis Villeneuve was gorgeous as per his usual fare, with the scenes involving […]

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