Under the Skin, 2013

Studio Canal

Kubrick’s Star Child has become a part of the collective subconscious. Similarly, Scott’s intensely atmospheric gem from 1979 has been growing inside our psyche, for forty-eight and forty-three years respectively.

The monolith, its origin, its purpose; from 2001: A Space Odyssey is incomprehensible to this day, despite many theories that surfaced after Pauline Kael‘s infamous review of 1971 where she refuses to accept the film, ‘which is bereft of any emotions’, and calls it a ‘dead slab’, only to have a change of heart upon further viewings. Turns out Ms. Kael was terribly scared and what she wrote initially for the film (Alien) was a reaction, an almost resistance to the assault on the good senses.

Under the Skin is the monolith from Kubrick’s classic.  

Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, 2000; Birth, 2004) is a director who intimidates the audience in ways that are mere feather strokes. The lack of character-tension and the astral high-on-pot and the gentle-throbbing score by Mica Levi in the abduction scenes not only make the viewer uncomfortable but also takes away their trust in the game and the hunt. For when the entity starts to undress, the camera focuses on Johansson’s straight – but strangely innocent face – and it is then that the sympathy for the prey becomes less.

Cinematographer Daniel Landin does a tremendous job by giving the set-pieces a pulse of their own, making the film a haunting experience with the engrossing imagery. The dark, the descent, and the blatant Freudian bait are all the characters fluttering within themselves, as if quickening inside a pregnant belly. The result is an absolute and true psychedelic experience. Once again a nod to the eccentric genius who had a fear of flying. Combined with a mesmerizing performance by Natasha Romanov. All of that make Skin a film that is ranked 61st on the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.

The performance of Scarlette Johansson is highly taught and contorted. Her character has no origin and therefore we are compelled to treat her like a creature, which the mind is incapable of understanding. The rigid and absolute performance of the actor adds to the overall cold feel of the film, right from the start when we see characters performing without the constraints of space and time, with the help of a pristine white and highly geometrically reflective set. Plus the nudity in the film is not sensual or pleasurable, it is merely a child inspecting a new costume for Halloween. Plus the abandonment scene pushes in further, the definitive alien disposition of our anti-hero. Scenes that are astonishing at first but sink in soon with a completely different association.

This is what we talk about when we talk about film as art.”

– Richard Roeper (writing for RogerEbert.com)

The scenes with Adam Pearson are touching but they go deeper than that. The entity does not hold any prejudice, it simply hunts. It is a bare truth of existentialism, which plants the seed of realization of the creature’s own condition and also prompts future logic and its decisions. Glazer has made a deeply disturbing, elusive, and visually stunning film, without prejudices; letting go of any cohesive story and relying on abstract imagery that just doesn’t get under the skin but also rattles the nerves.

Based on the novel by Michel Faber, Skin is a special, almost mind-fuck of a film; from shiny rain-drenched streets to the highways and snow-capped mountains of Scotland to the dark recesses of the human mind, where the soul is sucked into limbo, the reverse of giving birth (however, depending what side are you stuck in?). Under the Skin is minimalist, with even the most adventurous specialized audience to fasten onto.

The end leaves you divided and makes you ask questions about morality and accidental deconstruction in a hideously beautiful manner; and the biker. Jeremy McWilliams is a professional bike racer, just in case.

If Odyssey and Alien were proverbial sci-fi films and ahead of their times; Under the Skin is Glazer’s foot-prints (futuristic yet earthy) that the new wave of filmmakers will follow in, for both; good and bad.

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