'Under the Skin' review: ScarJo film fails to live up to its title

Rating

2 Stars2/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:36 PM ET

British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s science fiction and horror-thriller opus, Under the Skin, is a critical darling. And not just because voluptuous American movie star Scarlett Johansson strips naked and seduces a skein of witless and willing Scotsmen.

But I do not get it — the movie that is, not Johansson’s obvious allure. Under the Skin may not be bollocks, because it is a serious and thoughtful musing about what it means to be human. Yet it is incredibly boring, in part because Glazer tries to be cryptic, subtle and mysterious in his storytelling. As the story meanders on, there is a big plot reveal, but it is anti-climactic and of no value and no real interest, in my opinion. The fact that the plot turns on serial murders and an attempted rape is also a downer.

Some critics have cited a parallel between Under the Skin and a flawed but fascinating British classic, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Pop star David Bowie took the lead role in that cult favourite. On the surface, this parallel has some validity, with a similarity between the humanoid aliens who populate the films.

Roeg, however, did a far better job of creating a fluid move between alien and human concerns. In Glazer’s case, he forces us to take a series of abrupt and jarring stylistic jumps. These go from the grim, murky landscapes that the humans occupy in Scotland to the fantastical, fluid world that the aliens create in hidden places on Planet Earth.

The aliens in Under the Skin are essentially trapping humans for consumption. The fact that casual sex with a stranger is used as the bait on the alien hook seems incredibly dull. It is too predictable. Occasionally showing the surreal process of what happens to the human victims is visually dazzling, but of no real importance in the story.

So we are left with looking at Johansson as she tries to convey meaning through a minimalist performance. With almost no dialogue, she becomes a cipher, left to her own devices by Glazer. If you want to read something profound into her self-absorbed gazes, be my guest. I do not blame Johansson, but there is no there ‘there’ in this character.

Glazer was working from a script he co-authored with first-time screenwriter Walter Campbell. Together, they adapted the novel by Michel Faber, who was born in The Netherlands, raised in Australia and is now based in Scotland, where Under the Skin became his first published novel in 2000.

The gloomy film version of Under the Skin will do little for Scotland’s reputation as a travel destination. Meanwhile, as long as the aliens are among us, it is best to remain celibate — even if there is a naked movie star trying to get your attention.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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