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Reviews - Under The Skin

Under The Skin

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

Under The Skin
Under The Skin
The film last Sunday "Under the Skin" turns out to be very difficult to review; what WAS it about? Was it brilliant or utter rubbish? The talk in the pub afterwards went on for 2 hours and failed to resolve either of these; one person thought the female lead was actually a virus attacking her victims, others that she was an alien; others had no idea (or even cared!) Nearly 40% of the audience gave the film either a 4 or 5 star rating... but 44% gave it 1 or 2 stars. Where to begin, then?

The film is based on (or at least inspired by) the novel of the same name by Michael Faber, so I checked out Wikipedia to see what they thought that was about; "... an extraterrestrial sent to Earth by a rich corporation on her planet to pick up unwary hitchhikers. She drugs them and delivers them to her compatriots, who mutilate and fatten her victims so that they can be turned into meat, as human meat is a delicacy on the aliens' barren homeworld". So let's assume she IS an alien in the film too. What happens and what is going on? The following is a combination of the novel, my ideas and several critics; we may all be wrong...

At the start, we see a strange shape coming through the dark sky which turns into an eye; we hear a female voice trying out the sounds of a language – we have watched an alien arriving on Earth. Next, the camera follows a motorcycle at high speed, before he stops to pick up a dead woman. He delivers this to our naked alien – Scarlett Johansson - who strips the body and puts on the clothes. (The motorcyclist follows our alien throughout the film, checking up on her and cleaning up any mistakes she makes - he appears to be Scarlet's boss). Having seen her first sight of life on earth – an ant – it is time for her to get to work. Her job is to attract men into a dark place where their skin can be removed and the "meat" delivered off screen to the alien planet.

We see her talking to various men from the van she drives around Glasgow, some of whom she allows to go (as they have friends and will be missed), some of whom she lures into a jelly like liquid, where we see one of them sucked out of his skin (very beautifully I would add; a work of art, that part of the film, which would stand alone in an art gallery)
We then see her gradually beginning to understand our world; in a mall, she sees the superficial view of beauty we have, and tries to copy it with heavy lipstick; she falls over and several men rush to help her up, but she doesn't understand why; she has no empathy. We also watch her, in the most horrific scene for us humans, on a beach where she cannot understand why a swimmer attempts to save a family drowning. She is still alien enough to simply knock the swimmer out and drag him off, leaving a toddler screaming alone on the beach... Most influentially to her, she picks up a very deformed man who has no friends and has never touched a woman. Having allowed him to touch her, she still lures him back, but realises how she has trapped him (when she watches a fly caught in a window) and decides to let him go.
At this point she tries to leave her world behind and "become human"; she abandons the van and goes off into a village. She tries to eat a piece of cake but is sick. A kind man takes her home, where she listens to music and her fingers begin to move in time. Then she sees her naked body in the mirror and recognizes its beauty for the first time, but when the man tries to have sex with her, she is scared (what IS he doing?) and runs away into a wood.

In the wood, a logger sees her and tries to rape her; the hunter has become the hunted. Once again we see mankind's superficial view of beauty at its worst; as she struggles, the man jumps back when her skin begins to come off and he sees her for the beautiful – but different - alien she really is – "under the skin". His response is to set her on fire. The camera pans back as the embers die out...

So a film about trying to see humans for what we really are, warts and all, shown from an alien perspective? Maybe. There is a very interesting interview with Jonathan Glazier the director on YouTube which is worth a look to see the process he went through over 10 years of writing and rewriting, editing and re-editing. He admits it all started with a feeling and that he couldn't have guessed the final story. He tried to make it unadorned, using hidden cameras, disguising Scarlett Johansson and using unaware passers-by to keep it deliberately episodic – "make the point and move on". He wanted to keep it as if we were there with her. As he says, "If you are making a film about an alien, keep it alien". I think we would all agree he succeeded in that; some of us loved it, others hated it, but surely everyone was made to think; what a film to prove why we have a film club!

Next week we are back on much more stable ground with the latest "Scandi" crime thriller – "The Keeper of Lost Causes" from Denmark. Come along and meet the detectives from Department Q...

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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