Under The Skin

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Director: Jonathan Glazer.
Screenplay: Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell.
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Adam Pearson, Kryštof Hádek, Joe Szula, Michael Moreland, Jeremy McWilliams, Scott Dymond, Andrew Gorman, Jessica Mance.

“You’re not from here? Where are you from?”

Having been a fan of both Sexy Beast and the underrated Birth, I was happy to hear that Jonathan Glazer’s third directorial outing would be an adaptation of Michael Faber’s popular science fiction novel of the same name. Also (as a Glaswegian myself) I was even more intrigued to hear that this forthcoming story would be set primarily in Glasgow. I was interested in how the city and it’s inhabitants would be depicted and I have to admit that Glazer’s decision to do so, has paid dividends.

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A mysterious, and otherworldly, woman (Scarlett Johansson) arrives in Scotland where she wanders and drives around with the intention of seducing lonely men. The encounters she has, lead her to question her own existence as she strives for some meaning to her life and those around her.

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Did I hear anyone say Species? Of course, those who are familiar with Roger Donaldson’s 1995, B-movie Sci-Fi will undoubtedly make comparisons with the premise of Glazer’s third outing but the film itself actually shares more in common with the originality of Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film, The Man Who Fell To Earth. However, these films are mentioned in the same breath for very good reason as Under The Skin feels, somewhat, like the love child of Natasha Henstridge and David Bowie. Scarlett Johansson’s unnamed extra-terrestrial has the same man-devouring intentions as Henstridge while director Jonathan Glazer has an uncanny knack for Roeg’s ethereal qualities. It could also be pointed out that Bertrand Tavernier’s Death Watch in 1980 could have had an influence in utilising the grim and gloomy Glasgow locations for a sombre, science fiction mood piece.

It’s has a hugely experimental approach to filmmaking but one that’s entirely fitting to the films themes of isolation and understanding. Many Glasgow residents were filmed in secret (signing a disclaimer afterwords to be included in the final cut) and it’s this secret filming that adds an authenticity to their behaviour and allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of another entity. In this case, it’s almost a stroke of genius to have the often indecipherable Glaswegians as the focus of this alien being’s intentions. Many don’t understand the Glaswegian dialect or idiom and even though I completely understood what they were saying, I can only assume that many viewers wouldn’t quite grasp it the same way. Maybe I’m wrong but I often get the impression that the colloquialisms of the city do seem alien to people. I could even sense that Johansson herself didn’t know what they were saying at times but this only added the distance between her and the supporting characters. No one does anything of particular note but it’s their mundane existence that Johansson’s character finds interesting and it adds a rather captivating edge when seen through her eyes. Few, if any, science fiction films have managed to capture this concept or observation so well and it’s this that lends the film a true originality that bypasses the B-movie shlock of Species and comfortably finds it’s path on Roeg-ish territory.

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That being said, Under the Skin can, at times, be a tough watch and will certainly not appeal to those that who prefer to be spoonfed their science fiction. There’s a leisurely pace and the foreboding music score by Mica Levi and brilliantly bleak cinematography by Daniel Landin only add to the overall sense of dread and depression. The entire point of it all in creating and conveying a distance is also the very approach that could leave many viewers struggling to find any enjoyment. It’s also a role for Johansson that will ‘alienate’ many of her fans but those who are patient, and appreciate art-house cinema, will be richly rewarded.

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Much like the lure Johansson has over her male counterparts, the film itself lures you into a meditative frame of mind and refuses to let go. Some may see it as pretentious but whether or not you grasp it’s existential pondering’s, there’s still no denying it’s mesmerising mood. Bold filmmaking and quite unlike anything else from 2014.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: The film took nearly 10 years to be made, and one of the early drafts of the scripts included a Scottish married couple, who were revealed to be aliens in disguise. Brad Pitt was, at the time, cast as one half of the couple.

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77 Responses to “Under The Skin”

  1. Excellent review Mark, certainly looks like an unusual film to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Vinnie. It’s very unusual, to say the least, but also very well done. It won’t appeal to everyone and I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but there’s no mistaking it’s style and intrigue.

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  2. Good stuff Mark, glad you enjoyed this and interesting to get your take on it as a native of those parts. For me this was one of the best films I saw last year, I kept on thinking about it for weeks afterwards. Really unsettling and completely original! What did you make of the ending?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That fact that it was set in Glasgow only added to the realism for me, Stu. Brilliantly done and it was great that they never tried to tone down the strong Glaswegian accents. As for the ending, I loved it. Without giving away major spoilers, I thought it was very fitting and tied in perfectly with Johnasson’s own behaviour and experiences beforehand. I thought the film ended very strongly.

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  3. Mesmerizing indeed. Likely one of the most haunting films of 2014. Fine review, Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its hard to think of a more haunting film, Michael. This was a highly original piece of work that could have fallen flat but it’s bravery paid off.

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      • How did you like the locations used for UTS? I thought the Scottish land and city scapes certainly added to its haunting nature, Mark.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I thought they were used brilliantly, Michael. They certainly utilised the more impoverished areas of Glasgow to great effect. Like i mention in my review, Bertrand Tavernier and Harvey Keitel filmed in Glasgow way back for “Death Watch” and the city has that air of gloom about it. Perfect for any sombre piece.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Muckers,

    Where did you appear in this? Were you one of those people approached by her time in the van?

    I totally couldn’t understand you…..

    Boat Drinks!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Great review my friend. A lot of positive reviews for this one. It’s also a film that hasn’t gotten that big of an audience.

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    • It’s certainly an interesting piece of work, bro. Not everyone will enjoy it but if you’re ready for a darkly surreal and intriguing journey then this will do the job. Very interesting approach to filmmaking by using hidden cameras and such.

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  6. Really looking forward to watching this now that it’s on Amazon Prime.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A crazy movie. But man, it never lost my interest. Good review Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great review, man. You enjoyed this one way more than I did, that’s for sure. I actually kind of secretly hate this movie.

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  9. Great review, Mark. I loved your tie-in with the Michael Faber–I need to read more of him. This one hasn’t been talked about in a long time–I’m glad you liked it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d actually written this a few months back Cindy but due to my hiatus, it lay dormant. It was interesting reading back over it, though. The whole film came flooding back.

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  10. Interesting commentary about Glasgow, will definitely keep that in mind when I rewatch the film again! This is one that demands constant pondering…and probably rewards it.

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    • I think using hidden cameras on Glaswegians with very strong accents was a brilliant move, Marshall. Even Johnasson looked perplexed at times which was great for her character. I don’t think you’re missing much from the film overall when it comes to the accents but it’s worked wonderfully regardless.

      I appreciate you stopping by, man. 🙂

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  11. In the tip 2-3 films of last year for me. An astounding piece of work; this will be seen as a sci-fi classic very quickly. Loved the review mate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear you liked it that much, mate. It was certainly something. When i see it again, i reckon theres a great chance that i’ll enjoy it even more. If it becomes a classic, i can certainly see why.

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  12. Boy do some of those images look extra creepy and awesome when set against a black background! 😉

    I’m stoked to finally see this review here man, I recall you were eager to see how locals were being used in this film. ‘Under the Skin’ made my top 8 of last year’s better films, as you’ve seen. That’s all I’m going to say. This thing is extraordinary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its a very impressive film. No doubt about that, man, and I think it’s use of Glasgow was superb. Im still compiling my list of the best. As it stands it’s on there but there’s a few movies i’ve still to catch up with.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hey Mark! I was curious what you’d think of this as it was filmed in Glasgow. I had been putting it off as it sounds like bleak film that’s tough to watch at times, but I will rent it at some point. The experimental approach to filmmaking actually intrigues me. Nice to see Paul Brannigan on here too, I like him in The Angels’ Share 🙂

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    • It’s the experimental approach that really works gor the film, Ruth. It’s brave to do so but Glazer and. Johansson pull it off. Kudos to them for being so bold and believing in the project.

      Yeah, Paul Brannigan. Im seeing him appear quite a bit here and there on TV and stuff. He seems to be making a go if it but i think his accent will go against him.

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      • His accent? You mean because it’s super thick? Well it seems that it works for McAvoy whose Scottish brogue is super thick too whenever I heard him in interviews. Oh and Gerry used to have a much thicker accent too.

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      • Yeah, I mean that he doesn’t seem to be able to do any other accents. At least none that I’ve heard so far. Gerry isn’t the best at covering his but McAvoy is brilliant at accents. I’ve heard him do loads of them over the years and I think that’s what helping him crack the big time.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Still not seen this one – I know, I’ve let down my fellow Scots. Haha, excellent work Mark!

    Adam.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. daveackackattack Says:

    I’m not sure what I thought of this. It was nice to see Scarlett branch out as there was certainly nothing else like it on screen in 2014. I was already a fan of Glazer’s music video work with Radiohead, Jamiroquai and Massive Attack. I guess what I’m saying is I’d like to see more of this from Glazer. I’ll take movies like Upstream Color, Beyond The Black Rainbow and Holy Motors over most of what is out there. At least, for better or worse, they’re trying something different.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely something different Dave. I thought Upstream Color was very interesting but it really kept me at arns length and I struggled to write a review of it. I have Beyond The Black Rainbow and Holy Motors but not got around to watching them yet. Like you say, though, it’s great to see such original works hitting our screens. Hit or miss!

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  16. Under the Skin is a great movie. Not from anywhere near Glasgow, but I followed the dialogue pretty well. You’re correct to assert that this is an arthouse film made from a B-movie premise. Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It was such a great movie which at the same time divided audience. I loved it though and it earned a spot in my 2014 top 10. Johansson had a great year!

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  18. Nice review Mark and I think I’d give the movie the same score. I loved the intro and the haunting conclusion, but the movie gets receptive in the middle with the alien playing the same routine several times. It really prevented me from fulling loving the film unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thats a very fair observation Charles. I had similiar feelings. A tad repetative in terms of Johansson’s character but I still took plenty from it. The experimental approach and foreboding atmosphere were marvellously delivered. Im looking forward to another viewing, actually. I suspect it may get better on repeat viewings!

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  19. As a film, it was great. As an adaptation? Awful. The book is so much better but I really appreciated the atmosphere they created here. Scarlett was outstanding.

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    • It was a book i was very much interested in, Sati, and one i was getting round to when the film came out. Eventually, i seen the film first but I will go back and read it now. Totally agree on the atmosphere and Johansson’s performance. Im not normally a fan of hers but she was very good indeed.

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  20. One of my favourite films of last year Mark. Great review. I think Glazer strikes on a powerful mood here and Mica Levi’s score is terrifying.

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    • Thanks Natalie! It’s certainly an interesting mood piece and I’m totally with you on Levi’s score. So haunting! Defintely one of the more thought provoking films of last year.

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  21. “these films are mentioned in the same breath for very good reason as Under The Skin feels, somewhat, like the love child of Natasha Henstridge and David Bowie.” Love this line Mark! I watched this film without any subtitles, so… I didn’t quite understand the Glaswegians, but loved hearing the accent. Great write-up!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I would not get in her van 🙂

    Just too much I didn’t like about this. Maybe since becoming a dad but the scene on the beach was horrific!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Man, it’s funny you mention that. I was actually just talking about that beach scene with a colleague at work today. She didn’t like it either for similar reasons as yourself. Thats fucking weird you mentioning that today of all days.

      Like

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