“Under the Skin” is horrific, disturbing, mesmerizing. Always a fan of Scarlett Johansson’s (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) cute, soft and flirtatious demeanor, I’m now a little bit intimidated and terrified. She plays an alien creature wearing the preserved skin of men. She lures young Scottish gents in with her Scarlett Johansson-coyness before caging them in an underwater layer till their insides erupt spontaneously and leave folds of skin to be reused as garments — a nightmare in the making.
The world through the alien’s eyes is dark, dreary and lonely. There is no reason or purpose to her presence; she lives day-to-day as a predator. She drives through the streets of Scotland asking young men for directions to nowhere, just to get them in her car. This is when she lures them into odd buildings, run-down houses that end up being portals into her own planet. And then the music chimes in.
Composed by Mica Levi, the soundtrack to the film is genius. It makes the movie what it is. The brutally creepy track behind the seduction scenes is not only the soundtrack to tortured lust. The track reminds us of boner after boner (be ready for the nudity!) sinking into a viscous nothingness, and the lure keeps the audience on its toes. Like the men who willingly enter the alien’s abyss, we don’t want to turn back. So we get sucked in.
Certain scenes really stick. A pivotal scene in the movie shows the alien looking over a glum, rocky beach. In the near distance, a mother rushes into the water to save her dog, which is slowly drowning in the rough current. Her husband rushes in after her, their baby toddler left on the shore to fend for himself. A bystander, with whom the alien engages in conversation, flees her in a last ditch effort to save the couple. The alien stands back and watches the action, apathetic as she sees the couple slowly but surely die. The bystander winds up exhausted on the shore. She knocks him out with a rock and drags him to her lair, leaving us with the unforgettable image of a toddler shrieking out in confusion, alone and abandoned.
These absurd moments of blasé and purposeful disregard are what cast the alien out of our understanding, leaving us all the more in awe of her macabre character. The movie puts us in a place where we want to sympathize with her, needing her humanity while she remains in human skin. We need the force of representation to maintain its meaning.
Her evolving sense of humanity is finally provoked when she takes pity on a man with facial disfigurements by releasing him after she has “seduced” him. The most intense and touching aspect of the film is her confrontation with this man. Unscathed by human fears, she looks straight at him, addressing him in an amiable way that clearly surprises him. This scene completely undoes everything that has happened so far. Our conception of the alien as a predator does not change; however, she adopts a certain openness that urges a reinterpretation of her character.
The slow unraveling of the plot that carries us to the dramatic, unexpected and insane ending is so intricate and suspenseful that it makes the slow pace of the film all the more worth it. Director Jonathan Glazer has created a masterpiece, an engaging piece of art that is probably unlike anything you have ever seen.
5 out of 5 stars