out of Five
Running time: 107
Extraordinary sci-fi thriller, at once haunting, hypnotic and deeply disturbing, thanks to stunning cinematography, a chilling soundtrack and an instantly iconic performance from Scarlett Johansson that is nothing less than astonishing.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin is adapted from the novel by Michael Faber and stars Scarlett Johnasson as an unnamed alien entity who falls to earth in Scotland and takes on the form of beautiful woman. Dressed in a fur coat with messy jet-black hair and blood red lipstick, she cruises the streets of Glasgow in a white van, seducing men who approach her window and luring them to their deaths; once they accept her invitation they find themselves naked and aroused in a black room, where they sink into a dark liquid mass and disappear when they try to follow her.
However, there are signs that the alien is becoming more and more affected by her encounters and perhaps gaining a measure of human empathy, as evidenced in her treatment of a sweet-natured man with an Elephant Man-like deformity. After breaking from her pattern in a way she doesn't appear to understand, she sets out to explore more of the world, but finds it an increasingly dangerous place.
Johansson delivers a career best performance as the alien seductress - with her cool, blank expression and air of chilling detachment, she is nothing less than astonishing (even the middle-class London accent she adopts is excellent). It's an extraordinary piece of work, haunting, entrancing and utterly convincing - she's even more alien than David Bowie, in The Man Who Fell To Earth, her nearest cinematic equivalent (well, next to Natasha Henstridge in Species).
Glazer's script removes some of the context from the novel, leaving the alien's motivations all the more frightening for being deliberately unexplained. Similarly, the relative lack of dialogue leaves the audience clinging to every flicker of movement on Johansson's face as a clue to what might be going on; a disorienting experience that is deeply strange and unsettling, most notably in a scene shot on the beach with the alien blankly ignoring the cries of a baby whose parent has been swept out to sea after trying to rescue a dog.
Glazer's direction is assured throughout, aided by Daniel Landin's gorgeous cinematography and a suitably chilling score by Mica Levi. There are also a number of inspired touches, such as filming the van scenes in Glasgow using a hidden camera, with the people approaching the alien's window unaware that they are being filmed; the same approach is used in the scene where the alien trips and falls in a crowded street and is then perplexed by the human reaction as people help her to her feet.
Beautifully made and featuring a career best performance from Johansson, Under the Skin is a deeply strange and genuinely haunting film that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. Unmissable and one of the best films of the year.