Under the Skin

Under the Skin

This is a defiantly odd and confidently creepy little film, and as such there's a part of me that wishes you could just see this without knowing anything about it, except that Scarlett Johansson is in it. If you're game, then stop reading this now.

Otherwise, because Under the Skin has no interest in spelling much out for us, it may help to know up front that Johansson plays an alien who has come to Earth to harvest men's bodies for food; this is apparently explained in Michael Faber's novel, on which this film is based, and has been at the core of the film's marketing.

If you did not know this beforehand, you might be impatient with Under the Skin, wondering where the eerie yet slack narrative is going, and what's meant to be taken literally and what is some sort of surreal metaphor. (Much of the movie consists of Johansson cruising around Scotland in a plain white van, picking up ordinary Joes strolling down the street, taking them to her extremely dodgy-looking home, and seducing them in an empty black space before leading them to their dooms.)

With its blend of sci fi head trip visuals reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, quiet UK kitchen sink drama realism, and Hollywood sex symbol Johansson front and center, Under the Skin is one of those polarizing films that seems fast-tracked for cult status. Personally, I really liked it. Though it could be seen as a distaff version of Nicolas Roeg's similarly opaque David Bowie vehicle The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), the story, when you come down to it, is so simple as to be obvious: cold-hearted alien comes to our planet and slowly learns what it means to be human.

But there is nothing cute or heart-warming here. Under the Skin is brutal at times, erotic at times, and unsettling pretty much the entire time. Offbeat UK pop star Mica Levy's debut score is both exotic and chilling, and Johansson is perfectly cast as the aliens' idea of the ideal female target for human male lust. There is a lot going on here about gender, compassion, and who we are as a people. I'm already keen to see the film again - and not just because Johansson appears, several times, in the altogether. Though there is that.