Under The Skin
Cert: 15 / 108 mins / Dir. Jonathan Glazer
There was a worryingly high number of lone males in the audience for the 11am screening of "The Scarlett Johansson film with boobies in it" (including myself, I hasten to add), but judging by the confused grumbling as the audience shuffled out at the end, I wasn't alone in my opinion of the film either.
There's a fantastic visual disparity between Johansson, dressed apparently as a 1970's New York hooker, driving a white transit van around the streets and suburbs of modern-era Glasgow. This gulf is widened by her flawless (if sparingly used) 'post Brit' accent as she makes smalltalk with a series of strangers before going on to murder some of them. Although it also serves to underline the weakness of the screenplay as Scarlett ends up affirmingly-repeating a large percentage of their garbled, badly delivered improvisation.
Oh yeah, the script. The film's trailer had already indicated that Under The Skin was going to be a challenging watch, so I made a point of reading through the plot on the film's Wiki entry first. The page indicates that "Many of the scenes where Johansson's character picks up men were unscripted conversations with non-actors, filmed with hidden cameras." These scenes are a handy reminder that 'actor' and 'screenwriter' are real actual jobs for a good reason. Although to be fair, so is 'editor'. And while I'm in this paragraph, I'll openly admit that I'm glad I knew the plot beforehand, as that's a mystery that Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell seem to want to keep to themselves. The narrative thread of the film is 'relaxed', at best.
In all fairness, there are some fascinating visual and thematic ideas in here, particularly in how the murder-scenes are handled, and the beach scene is positively harrowing in its conclusion. I can see that Glazer's adaptation of Michel Faber's novel has been made with skill, craft and discipline, but quite frankly it needs to be more interesting, more often. Deliberately, tauntingly slow, the film tries to bait its audience into caring about characters it disposes of with little care or charm.
On a more technical level, don't try and watch this with any daylight coming into the room. More than a few scenes are so dark and murky that I had trouble making out what was going on in a darkened auditorium. Ultimately, the film's self-indulgence just led to me becoming impatient (admittedly because I had another film in another screen immediately afterwards and didn't want the two times to overlap).
I'm afraid I can't admire the finished product, but I at least have a grudging respect for how it's been made. Under The Skin is 30% remarkable, 70% infuriating, and ultimately just not for me (although I'm struggling to work out who it is for. Certainly not this morning's audience).
"Do you want to look at me?"
"This isn't Tesco's, is it?"
Er, yeah. Yeah it is.
Not as often as was intended, I suspect.
For me? No. Your mileage will vary.
I can't make that decision for you.
A bit, yeah.
There isn't. Fair enough.
Was it Creative Scotland's idea to shoehorn in Deacon Blue playing on the radio? As if all radio stations in Scotland constantly play a stream of them, Texas, Runrig and The Proclaimers? It's the kind of generalisation I'd be taken to task for if I'd made it...
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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