Girl drives. Girls picks up guy. Girl lures guy into black muck. Girl drives. Girls picks up guy. Girl lures guy into black muck. Girl drives. And that’s the gist of “Under the Skin.” I’m not sure if I’d recommend “Under the Skin” to even the most open minded arthouse buff. It’s not to say that “Under the Skin” is awful. It’s just an experience that won’t lend well to repeated viewings. Especially when you consider that much of what occurs is either explicitly stated and or subtly hinted at for ambiguity. For the sake of science fiction, much of “Under the Skin” is obvious, while director Glazer also vies for a gritty realism that’s sorely out of place when we see it.
Supposedly the encounters of Johannsen’s character with men on the side of the road in Scotland as she attempts to pick them up in her van were real. The director didn’t inform the men they were being filmed. This is especially true when her character meets a young man with a form of Neurofibromatosis, which makes his face look completely deformed. She engages in a conversation with him and asks him to touch her face, as a means of opening up to him. So what of the scene where he strips only to be engulfed in her black pool? Did they inform him and somehow convince him to take part in the film? I’m not sure I buy that. In either case, “Under the Skin” is based mostly around cryptic moments filled with many montages, brilliant photography, and no dialogue.
It’s definitely a science fiction film with tones of horror, but nothing is ever really menacing per se. Johannsen plays an alien who takes the appearance of a young woman, and spends her days driving around Scotland attempting to pick up young men. She then lures them to her house and they’re engulfed in a black pool to be digested. The character is either feeding the house, or herself, it’s never really indicated. All that there really is, is the character driving around silently, and attempting to lure men to her home. Johannsen is perfect for this character as her body is outstanding, and she’s incredibly sexy. It’s easy to see why any man would be seduced by her during the narrative. One scene in particular catches her walking through crowds in a mall, and she doesn’t even seem to be trying for alluring, even though she’s oozing sexuality. If there’s anyone right now that can play seductress it’s Johannsen.
“Under the Skin” \always seems to be heading in to interesting territory, with perhaps interesting commentary about humanity, but it meanders again and again in to an aimless narrative with no real sense of character direction. That seems to have rendered it a favorite, but I just thought it was often monotonous. We know the character isn’t particularly keen to humans, and has a change of heart mid-way that’s woefully underplayed. It’s all so under developed and side stepped that we never get a sense of any of the characters. Thus when the striking climax occurs, there’s no inherent emotion mustered up. Granted, the direction is stunning, the score is excellent, and “Under the Skin” is perfectly fine. I’m just not sure I’ll ever see it again unless I have to.