Come To Me
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Perhaps the most unsettling yet mesmerizing film of the year, Under the Skin is director Jonathan Glazer’s first feature film in nine years and what a film he delivers after that agonizing wait. The basic premise of the story is simple: an alien comes down to Earth, embodies a female human body, and then goes out on the prowl for various prey. Its simplistic skeleton structure serves the film extraordinarily well (pun intended) because Under the Skin above everything else is about an experience. A hypnotic, terrifying, unsettling, beautiful experience of humanity through the eyes of a predator. It’s also keenly erotic, but never in a sense of vulgarity. One of the finest films of the year, Under the Skin leaves little to the imagination yet forces you to broaden your horizons simultaneously. The film simply doesn’t work otherwise.
The sequences where she draws in her prey are remarkably thrilling and they never feel repetitive, much to the film’s credit. There’s s quiet mystery about them, as layer after layer of the consumption process is revealed. It prevents the film from being cyclical and Glazer smartly uses that technique to keep the experience of watching her take her victims gripping. Much like the victims themselves, we cannot help but be drawn to this fascinating individual who seems to just exude this strange hypnotic sense of beauty. There’s a fantastic sort of realism about the film, no doubt a result of the fascinating way it was was filmed. Real-life individuals were secretly filmed, their reactions to this hypnotic, gorgeous alien talking to them feeling germane. Without that realism, the arresting hypnotism would fade away and leave behind an incredibly muddled mess.
There’s one scene in this film that was simply so sublime that I could arguably make a case for it to be crowned the best scene of this entire year. One of her more quiet victims is a man that suffers from neurofibromatosis, resulting in his visage becoming disfigured. Quietly, she approaches him in a kind manner, offering to drop him off at TESCO so he could grab groceries. “Why do you shop at night?” she asks him quietly and his quiet conveys more trauma than any dialogue. She continues to press him as to whether or not he had ever truly been with a woman. A morose sort of quiet settles over him. She begins to understand but we already know. In that moment Under the Skin settles for a different type of predation in which she feeds on his feelings, his trauma, his longing for the human touch. It’s absolutely terrifying and Glazer smartly avoids any overindulgence in gore and blood. The simple silence is haunting enough.
Perhaps the most fascinating sequences in the film are where the alien is discovering humanity. Scarlett Johansson, in one of the finest performances she’s ever given, plays those moments beautifully, the subtle movements of her eyes conveying all the wonder and bemusement she’s slowly uncovering. At one point, she’s simply standing on a beach and watching with a sort of a fascination as a man tries to save his drowning wife and child. There’s a confusion in her eyes, trying to understand why he would go to such lengths to save their lives. What was that power, that connection? In a room at a stranger’s house, she walks towards a mirror, staring acutely at her own naked body, a complete anomaly to her. She has a vagina and you feel that surprise acutely, without Johansson saying a single word.
Which is exactly what makes the ending of this film so shocking and poignant. She discovers her body before a man rapes her in the woods. She feels that terror, that horror as he chases her between the trees, even if she doesn’t completely understand it. As he rapes her, she’s confused and frightened over exactly what just happened. She feels pain, but she simply can’t understand it. Why, would anyone do that to her? What had she done? The horror that she feels rings true to an audience that lives in a world where the epidemic of sexual assault is still largely brushed under the rug as if it no longer exists. Her rapist tears at her skin and her true, darkened form emerges. Terrified, he sets her ablaze. The camera pans out amidst the stunningly beautiful Scottish landscape, watching almost with an eerie abandon as her ashes descend upon the very world she was set on fire. You close your eyes quietly as if to take it all in, but long after the credits roll, you can still feel the touch of this haunting, mesmerizing film. And that may be this film’s greatest achievement.
Title: Under the Skin
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Produced by: James Wilson, Nick Wechsler
Screenplay by: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer
Based On: Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Music by: Mica Levi
Cinematography: Daniel Landin
Editing by: Paul Watts
Production Company: Film4, BFI
Distributor: StudioCanal (UK), A24 Films (US), Mongrel Media (CA)
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Dates: 29 August 2013 (Telluride Film Festival), 14 March 2014 (UK), 4 April 2014 (US)
Image Courtesy: IndieWire