Monday, April 21, 2014

UNDER THE SKIN (2014)

Written by Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer


Directed by Jonathan Glazer


Where & When:  Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA  April 10, 2014  2:40PM



It's most certain far more people will check out Scarlett Johansson strutting her stuff in a skin-tight bodysuit as she kicks some serious ass in the latest installment of the super-hero adventure "Captain America: The Winter Solider" than her appearance in "Under The Skin", an offbeat art-house experience from director Jonathan Glazer. The actress is all these two films share in common as "Skin" is a confounding but highly mesmerizing sci-fi puzzle. The shapely figure of Ms Johansson is also on display here yet nothing is left to the imagination as she plays an alien being that uses it's quite appealing human form to lure lustful men in to an otherworldly trap. There isn't much of a clear explanation for the actual purpose of their capture although we do learn that the outcome ain't gonna be great. Based loosely on the novel by Michel Faber, Mr. Glazer, who impressed and challenged with his previous films "Sexy Beast" and "Birth", creates an eerie atmosphere with minimal dialogue as the story is seen mostly through the eyes of this sexy extraterrestrial.

A motorcycle-riding male accomplice delivers a recently deceased female body to the nude alien (Johansson) who promptly removes her clothes. Now prepared with a wild mane of raven hair, painted red lips and the name of "Laura", she scours the streets of Glasgow in a large van, searching only for men who are unattached and generally won't be missed. No real effort is required to get them back to her place since the implication that sex would be a sure thing. With eyes focused only on Laura, the men fail to notice the dark, empty surroundings .She slowly walks backwards, peeling away her clothing, waiting for them to do the same. Naked and aroused, the male moves forward before sinking in to a liquid-like prison, sealed to await their fate as Laura casually retrieves her clothes to find another victim.

After delivering a facially disfigured man to her lair, Laura catches a glance at her own outer image. This changes something in the visitor, setting her off to discover what it actually means to be a human. Distracted from her true mission, the alien attempts to comprehend the simple pleasures of life, like a slice a cake or tender intimacy with a man with the results ending to be far from rewarding.

Although "Under The Skin" comes across as an extreme warning of what can happen when you get in a car with strangers but maybe, in a vague way, the film is attempting to examine humanity from an outsider's perspective. Or since only men are selected and a female is the seductress/captor, perhaps it's a commentary on the age-old battle between the sexes? Who really knows as nothing is made apparent on what it all means with the heavy Scottish brogues hardly helping matters. Regardless, the film manages to draw you in with unsettling and haunting images that will equally fascinate and horrify. Ms Johansson gives a fully committed performance, revealing herself  emotionally as well as physically. Even before the alien goes rogue, the actress is able to connect with very few words or even a blank stare.

Guided by an effectively creepy score by Mica Levi, "Under The Skin" merges experimental film-making and visionary science-fiction along with a sense of hair-raising dread found in a horror flick. For viewers seeking the usual escapist entertainment, stick with the popular movie featuring the Stars and Stripes-wearing hero to witness Ms Johansson in action. But if you want an unexpected, unnerving and unclear cinematic adventure then "Under the Skin" is the perfect destination.