Friday, June 27, 2014

Under the Skin Review

I remember when the acclaimed science fiction film Looper was released, I was watching a critic award the film a C letter grade on the local news and I was surprised by this considering I had heard nothing but positive thoughts up to that point. I found the reason he gave for the mediocre grade to be baffling. Essentially, he said he would need to watch Looper more than once to understand it and that really bothered him. In his world, a film should be relatively simple to fully dissect and appreciate after only one viewing.

I don't live in his cinematic world.

Under the Skin is a 2014 film by director Jonathan Glazer and my lord is it a wondrous piece of filmmaking, a brilliant example of how diverse and layered the science fiction genre can be. The film follows one character throughout, a cold and strange woman named Laura who uses her physical appearance to draw the attention of various men she picks seemingly at random. The men follow her without much apprehension due to the possibility of the night ending in sex, but their unfortunate fates are sealed by their blind drive for lust as they are actually lured to their deaths. 

The film is completely baffling and utterly spellbinding thanks to incredible direction by Glazer, a mature and perfectly calculated performance by Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, an eerie, haunting musical score by Mica Levi and unforgettable nightmarish cinematography by Daniel Landin. We sit back and absorb what is essentially a game of man hunting by Laura and cringe knowing something awful will happen to them as a result of their sexual desires, but it is completely impossible to look away. I was forced to pause the film and take a break at one point from it, not due to the content or anything but because of a oh shit my kid is awake time to get her back to bed moment, and I spent this time processing everything I had seen thus far. The imagery danced through my mind and made my skin crawl as I told my daughter that there was nothing to be afraid of, but I'm not entirely sure I even believed myself. I couldn't wait to run back into the living room and press play again, hoping Glazer would keep pouring on the surreal and confounding and find new, creative ways to completely fuck with my mind.

Before I wrote this review I let the film resonate in my mind for roughly 24 hours as I wanted to try to assemble the true message of the narrative rather than simply enjoy it for being creepy and cool. Clearly the themes of gender roles and the female struggle to maintain the ideal physical form were vital pieces of the story, and I literally smiled and said "clever" aloud to myself during a certain scene involving Laura attempting to eat a piece of cake. Despite picking up some of the meaning intended by Glazer, I am absolutely positive I can dig up so much more with each revisit in the future, and I can't wait to try.

I adore the opportunity to pick apart an abstract work, and I have absolutely no problem admitting that I lacked comprehension after a single viewing of a film. The first time I witnessed a film like Mulholland Drive I had no friggin' clue what I had seen, but whatever it was infested my mind and I couldn't stop craving the chance to interpret the Lynch masterpiece over and over and over again. I have only screened the Shane Carruth baffler Upstream Color once, and when people ask me what it was about I tell them I have no idea, but I strongly recommend it anyways. For me, true art should demand that I work for it in order to appreciate just how much care and nuance went into its production. My love for films that are easier to digest remains as strong as ever, but a beauty like Under the Skin is why I find such joy in writing reviews and discussing the medium.



  1. Been on the fence about this one for months. still haven't made up my mind if I want to see this or not.

    1. I love abstract, weird material with deeper themes like this Derrick, but without a doubt not everyone would enjoy it as much as I did.

  2. Been on the fence about this one for months. still haven't made up my mind if I want to see this or not.