Movie Review: “Under The Skin” Is Contrived And Ponderous


Review by James McDonald

An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.

“Under the Skin” is a sci-fi movie with an interesting premise: an alien being from another world disguises itself as a sexy woman (Scarlett Johansson) so she can seduce single men into her lair where they are processed into viable sustenance and sent back to her home world as fuel for her people to live on. The idea sounds intriguing and is based on the book of the same name by Michel Faber but it’s in the film’s execution, where it fails. Ms. Johansson is a very talented actress and she is probably the best thing in the entire movie. She doesn’t speak very much and sadly, she doesn’t get to emote much either but that’s the whole point, she’s an alien whose sole purpose for being on earth, is to feed on humans and to seamlessly blend in.

The film is shot very unconventionally and this was one of the aspects that for me, caused the movie to suffer. We get a plethora of extremely long shots with minimal action and they seem to continue for what seems like an eternity. Shots of trees blowing in the wind, shots of nameless faces walking down the street, shots of Ms. Johansson sitting in a truck, staring out the window at nothing in particular. I felt like I was watching a film student, presenting his very first, overly ambitious sci-fi project which was undoubtedly influenced, very heavily, by Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch but instead of just trying to tell a good story, the film’s director, Jonathan Glazer, decided to produce the movie utilizing atmosphere and qualities which were evoked by excessive surrealism.

So what’s wrong with being inspired by Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch? Well it all comes down to personal preference. I never really cared for Kubrick, I always found him and his work to be overrated. I found “2001” to be inordinately lengthy and laborious to sit through and David Lynch’s “Dune” was just plain horrible. Granted, they both made other movies, better movies but their artistic style has always remained intact with almost every film they have made and that isn’t always a positive thing. Sometimes, it’s good to change components up a little. “Under the Skin” suffers from having had too many influences directed upon it, instead of trying to find its own individual narrative.

There was one impressive scene which involved two of the men that Ms. Johansson seduced into her lair, where we see them being ingested and broken down for consumption on the alien world but that one scene aside, the film failed to deliver anything that resembled science fiction. Director Jonathan Glazer’s first movie was the powerful and absorbing “Sexy Beast”, which starred Ben Kingsley, giving one of his finest performances and the underrated “Birth”, starring Nicole Kidman so we know that Mr. Glazer is capable of delivering a truly great film but I just hope that after “Under the Skin”, an admirable but failed attempt at a genre that is not easy to penetrate, that he bounces back with all cylinders firing.

In select theaters April 18th


James McDonald
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