Sci-fi that is pretentiously weird, but at least it gives you some interesting things to look at. Under the Skin is one of the more bizarre examples of experimental cinema in recent years. Scarlett Johansson, in it just to prove she can do something really different, plays an alien who seduces zero personality males of Glasgow, Scotland, by getting them to jump into her van and go to her pad for sex. But she’s really just luring them into a lair, one of pitch black minimalism, where the males are immediately hypnotized as they slink into a pool where their organs are harvested – for something. British Director Jonathan Glazer (whose terrifically strange films “Sexy Beast” and “Birth” are conventional in comparison) has said in interviews the humans are harvested, in this plot, to feed the alien race back on their home planet. Hmm, I appreciated the far-out imagery, but the film often unsuccessfully communicates the ideas it intends to get across.
It’s also a misanthropic downer. Johansson, as the alien, makes the kind of slutty and demure come-ons to get these men to board the van – and it’s obvious something’s a little off with this woman, these guys must be thinking, but she seems easy. The whole scenario is repetitive, and the only meager pleasure, is for the film to show us a little more each time of what happens to these guys at the lair. When Johansson picks up a shy man with facial disfigurement (non-actor Adam Pearson has neurofibromatosis), who only wanted a lift to the supermarket, she might feel he doesn’t deserve this fate – and helps him to escape. Later, resigned with her quest, she goes home with an odd-guy Samaritan who watches dumb comedy TV but is kind enough to set up a bedroom heater for her. She has sex with him but it’s out of curiosity of the soul, and not out of her own emotional pleasure. Lying back while he’s on top, she is indifferent and unresponsive. She’s definitely not an alien you will see riding on top.
Sometimes you watch a fiction film for its documentary aspects, and I did enjoy seeing the beautiful but bleak surroundings of Scotland as this alien drives around looking for prey. But it’s kind of like the notorious “The Brown Bunny,” that endless art film fiasco where you spent two hours watching petty sights through a van windshield while the character figures out the meaning of life. Granted, there are more inventive visuals here (the opening of a planetary eclipse is Kubrickian), but you put your own mind and soul through a lot of muck during “Skin” to get to the parts you appreciate.
Glazer is striving for high art, driven to do something like the great “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” but it’s so damn repetitive, and with a lot less substance and significance. As for Johansson, she proves she can play cold and emotionless, and the only warmth she gives to her audience is when she shows her entire body. The film, and it’s forsaken forest ending where a human is far more atrocious in behavior, will creep you out more than it will arouse excitement. Or rich enough thought.
Based upon the 2000 novel by Michel Faber.
107 Minutes. Rated R.
CEREBRAL SCI-FI / WEIRDNESS / FRIDAY AFTER DARK