The science fiction use of the alien-human interaction always carries the weight of its metaphorical significance. Jonathan Glazer’s appropriation is no exception, and Scarlett Johansson’s seductive foray into humanity allows for some introspective soul searching of our own.
Although there is no explicit mention of the extra- terrestrial, the eerie opening sequence which results in Scarlett Johansson undressing an immobile Scarlett Johansson sets our otherworldly alarm bells ringing. That, and the complete absence of anything resembling a recognisable human emotion. The first half settles into a repetitive pattern as Laura, the alien Scarlett Johansson drives around Glasgow on the lookout for men to lure to her home. What happens then is an eerie sequence in which the house we entered has fallen away and left us in pitch black unfamiliar surroundings, in which Laura glides over what the men sink and disappear into. The uneasy sequences are all set up in the same way and after the initial shock of what takes place, are always accompanied by a feeling of dread, as, by an unfortunate twist of dramatic irony, the audience knows exactly what is about to happen. Completed with a truly enthralling animated sequence, which sets every hair on your body on edge, the whole set up is unsettling, not least because it is jarringly juxtaposed with a world which looks and sounds so familiar. Glazer gives us an alien who shops in Republic and Claire’s Accessories, who offers to drive people to Tesco and who rides the bus. The contrast of the banal and familiar with the extraordinary series of events she causes and the ever present chilling soundtrack creates an atmosphere so mesmerising and strange that for days afterwards it will creep up and tap you on the shoulder.
The second half of the film breaks out of this pattern and after a Lacan style moment in which Laura becomes aware of her own reflection, she abandons the safe haven of her van and the populated city to venture out into the wild Glaswegian countryside on her own. During her incursion into human interaction, she experiences both the best and worst that humanity has to offer. Set against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the natural and sparsely populated landscape, Glazer questions the natural state of mankind as we see Laura fall into situations which both give you hope, and make you despair about the state of man.
Under the Skin belongs to Scarlett Johansson; she carries us through the film and despite the sparse dialogue, has the audience hanging on to her every move. We watch in horror as she lures these men to their desperate fate, but gradually will her to run faster as in the end the roles are reversed and it is she who falls foul of her kindness to strangers. The whole film is a truly immersive experience and the consistent and reoccurring soundtrack never lets up, keeping you constantly on the edge of the confusing awestruck and horrified state that it creates.
Intriguing from start to finish, the film is a dazzling yet unrelenting exploration of everything that it means to be human. Under the Skin reminds you of the power and majesty of a cinematic experience which takes you so far out of yourself that when you look down on a world that you thought you knew so well, it seems very very far away.