Monday, 29 December 2014

Under the Skin

A retroactive WOW!

It’s been about six months since I watched Under the Skin. I gave it **** and knew it would end up in my top ten of 2014, but I chose not to write a review due to the film’s extremely dark subject matter. So I will start this review with a serious warning: DO NOT consider my **** as a recommendation to watch Under the Skin. I was very surprised that it was only rated 14A in Canada; it deserves an 18 rating. Unless you can handle watching extremely disturbing horror films (of any variety), you will not want to see this.

Since most readers will skip this one, I had not planned to write a review. But then The Guardian, one of the best and most trustworthy newspapers in the world, awarded Under the Skin its “Best Film of 2014”. And the world’s best film critics have combined to rank it number three for the year. I thought Under the Skin was a great little film, but had not expected this kind of reception from the critics, so now I have decided to write a belated review (after my second viewing), albeit with SPOILERS (if you are the kind of person who would watch such a dark film based on my **** recommendation, please read no further - the less you know, the better).

Under the Skin is NOT a horror film as such (I wouldn’t have watched it if it was), though it most closely resembles horror films. This is pure low-budget indie sci-fi horror, written and directed by Jonathan Glazer. Scarlett Johansson is the sole star, playing an alien who has come to Scotland and is masquerading as a beautiful human in order to lure men to their deaths in one of the most original, unusual and horrifying ways imaginable (I will not try to describe it, lest you try to imagine it and have nightmares as a result). The bodies of the men are needed for reasons unknown. The victims are chosen randomly, but must have no friends, family or jobs. In other words, they must not be missed. I assume this is simply to avoid attracting attention to what the alien is doing. 

But halfway through Under the Skin, the alien (who is depicted at the beginning of the film as utterly coldhearted) begins to experience emotions. She releases her latest victim and takes off for rural Scotland, where she will encounter humans of all kinds who will take her further on her journey of exploring human emotions, though not with positive results. Meanwhile, her fellow aliens, who appear only briefly, are searching the country for her. The hunter becomes the hunted in various ways and our sympathies are slowly transformed as we see what’s really under the alien’s skin.

What makes Under the Skin special is its thoughtful and thought-provoking screenplay, which invites us to think about how humans might appear to aliens (I truly felt at times that I was seeing Scotland as an alien might see it) and to think about skin and what lies underneath it, the central theme of the film (hence the title). It’s about transforming the way we think about beauty and outward appearance and how we think about people (and aliens) when we see what lies underneath their skin. Wonderful fascinating stuff, worthy of much discussion (if you can find someone willing to discuss it). You may never look at people in the same way again. 

Under the Skin, which feels a little like a Kubrick film, also features great cinematography, a haunting “horror” score and a perfectly cast Johansson, who is as good here as I have ever seen her. It all adds up to an easy ****. My mug is up, but the stuff inside is the darkest blend imaginable and thus not for all tastes. 


  1. I watched this one by myself, probably shouldn't have. It has very surprising visuals! Some beautiful, if you didn't think about the subject matter. The main conflict for me was the realism opposed to the sci fi parts, just left me confused.

  2. I watched this film during polar midnight in the arctic and it was about 20 below outside. Nothing out there was nearly so dark or so cold as this film.