Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer

Dark and oppressive tension

The well-known Hollywood starlet Scarlet Johansson in mysterious, dark Scottish surroundings – wandering around as an erotic, man-eating alien.

This alternative and unconventional film is an adaptation of a novel written by Michel Faber in 2000. But that does not really matter when you watch the film for the first time, because its stunning and atmospheric scenery makes you forget any pre-held ideas.

The film is utterly captivating in its almost exclusive focus on one character, acted by the erotic and sensual Scarlet Johansson. When you begin to watch this movie, it soon becomes clear why it is described as a mixture of sci-fi and horror. The futuristic beginning, in which a dark reincarnation of an alien invades the dead body of a beautiful woman (our first glimpse of Johansson), leaves you speechless. Slowly but surely, the disturbing feeling of a true-to-life nightmare will overwhelm you.

The film does not cling to a classical progression of scenes or to the perspective of a narrator. The focus lies more on the psychological and tension-generating effects, which are transferred in a subliminal way to the viewer. The film is set in rough and wild Scotland, which reflects the merciless, cold acting style of femme-fatale alien Johansson.

All the spots in which the action of the film takes place are characterized by darkness. Cool, very dim light is about as bright as it gets. Especially crucial for our immersion in the chilly and creepy atmosphere of the film is the rocky beach scene at night, in which the strange alien woman shows her inability to act on human principles of pity and compassion.

In terms of cinematography, deep and narrow perspective alternate with hidden camera shots. Sometimes you feel you are being driven along the dark and dirty streets of a Scottish town. At other times, long takes of landscapes win you over with their frosty but beautiful, goose-bump-inducing flow. These are mixed in with flashy quick cuts to the extraterrestrial which remind you that you are still watching a sci-fi movie. As an accompanying element, the metallic spooky music (which could be defined as pathetic too) carries you through the plot.

Finally it is worth mentioning that the viewer should be prepared for a meaningful closing scene. Everything which the attentive viewer has observed of the development of the beautiful, spell-binding alien Scarlet is thrown into a big melting pot. You will be left with a queasy feeling in your stomach and a kind of dissatisfaction at how things went. Nevertheless you won’t regret this unfamiliar journey through uncomfortable but rewarding territory, because stunning Johansson is a feast for the eyes.

Anna Theresa Strecke

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