It feels like a long time, nine years to be exact, since writer/director Johnathan Glazer made movie audiences deeply uncomfortable with Birth, his controversial film about a young boy claiming to be a woman's reincarnated husband. Now in 2014, with Under the Skin, he seems to have polarised critics once again with another film about an entity inhabiting a body it has no right to inhabit. What can't be denied is that Glazer has given us an intriguing and unnerving low-key Sci-Fi about lust, desire and the human condition.
The film follows Scarlet Johansson's unnamed vampire-like alien who, after stealing the identity of a young woman, descends upon Glasgow to trap unsuspecting men with her unparalleled beauty and lead them to their deaths. Johansson, fresh off providing the sultry voice of the OS Samantha in Her, is playing a very different kind of non-human here. Her performance, with its devilishly charming London accent, is strangely engrossing and one that has to rely heavily on facial expression and mannerism in a film that offers her sparse amounts of dialogue. As a result Johansson's alien comes off as not necessarily evil, but merely doing a job she was sent here to do and, as the film goes on, she becomes more curious of her surroundings.
Glazer also tells a lot of the story here thorough his visuals. The aliens themselves don't communicate verbally and so we are wisely never actually told why they are doing what they're doing. Instead we have to work it out by what he shows us. The 'honey trap' sequences , especially, are a sight to behold and Glazer uses them as an opportunity to conjure up the film's most surreal and unsettling imagery, and this is where the film works best. The men she seduces, because they are too busy panting over a bare skin Johansson, become victims of their own carnal desires to such an extent that they are oblivious to the eerie extra-terrestrial surroundings (not that I blame them) .
The line between reality and fantasy is even blurred as Glazer voyeuristically turns a hidden camera on the streets of Scotland and some scenes even have Johansson in character talking to ordinary people without being recognised. In the final third the film goes all fish out of water and it falters somewhat as the outcast alien briefly and foolishly tries to integrate into our world. Nonetheless it's still an interesting take on loneliness and what it is to want to belong.
This is a chilling, bizarre, dreamlike and daring film with a suitably nuanced performance. It's not one for everyone but can be rewarding if given the chance.