Review: Under the Skin

What a haunting and ambiguous experience this was!

A mysterious woman drives throughout Scotland seemingly for the sole reason to abduct men.

If there’s one thing you should know, I will happily watch anything if Scarlett Johansson is in it, and I will probably be biased towards it too (see Iron Man 2) but despite this it took me a while getting around to watching independent movie Under the Skin.
If I told you the title itself is all the exposition this film gives you, then you get a pretty accurate presentation of  how ambiguous this film really is. If you aren’t interested by a story that doesn’t provide any exposition (or even much dialogue in this case too!) and leaves a lot up to your own interpretation… you must avoid this film.

Under the Skin is a quiet and unsettling affair. Johansson’s unnamed woman is shown driving her van in silence, looking for men who are alone so she can abduct them. Her character barely speaks, using the men’s own urges to convince them to go with her. These stalkings are shot guerilla-style with cameras mounted in the dashboard or within the van, and some of her encounters are actually improvised with the Scottish public.
But what happens to these men that she lures away? Those encounters are abstract with sound and light and are highly sexualised.

Some might say this is the most objectified Johansson has ever been; the actress usually avoiding total reliance on her appearance, and certainly Under the Skin gives little else when looked at, shall I say, skin deep? But in the most underplayed and subtle way the film evolves without speaking a word, her character’s predatory needs begin to appear functional and not natural as she appears to lack any sense of self preservation when in danger.

I cannot say more without spoiling it. The film is unsettling but extremely subtle. It has unpleasant and harrowing scenes but they are all shot with such lack of empathy, mirroring the woman’s own inhumanity. Did I enjoy it, you ask? I did! It was evocative and I like stories that leave the audience something to think about; ambiguity is a good thing. That and seeing Johansson driving about Glasgow city was great! But it isn’t for those with a shorter attention span or those who need anything or everything explained.

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