Well made and cerebral sci-fi noir thriller that while it achieves the same omniscience, brutality and stark realism of Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002) and We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) simply doesn’t quite have the same energy or style of similar themed films of the genre, notably Species, 2001:A Space Odyssey, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Starman, Shivers or The Hunger.
Glazer, whose previous films have been an odd mix of literary satire and artful visual design, appears to continue to want to subvert and defy genre cliches whilst maintaining his credibility as an ‘auteur’ filmmaker. This seems indicative of similar ‘auteurs’, who were either artists or music video directors, notably Steve McQueen, Anton Corbijn, Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, who appear to re-invent and rework the film’s narrative of every genre they work with. With the exception of Jonze and McQueen, I can’t really recommend any of the films of those mentioned, since despite their efforts to tell interesting and visually challenging films, I haven’t felt any of those were particularly fun to watch, interesting or successful. Under The Skin feels like another pretentious, meandering and plotless story similar to The American (2010), Shame (2011), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Glazer’s previous film Birth (2004).
I’d previously watched Jonze’s film Her (2013), and was pleasantly surprised that the director’s normal impulse to shock and surprise the audience had been repressed slightly in order to focus on the drama and to tell an interesting story. Hher is probably the closest contemporary film to portray the emotional and existential crisis of identity since Last Tango In Paris did in the seventies, and which alot of filmmakers seem to aspire to.
Regrettably, despite Glazer’s incredible visual style and eye for detail, which produces a powerful and haunting ‘look’ as well as any Kubrick, Ridley Scott or Ken Loach film, the story remains flat and cerebral with none of the fantasy or imagery of Tony Scott’s The Hunger (1983), David Cronenberg’s Shivers (1975) or Nicholas Roeg’s epic The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), or even the drama of John Carpenter’s Starman (1984) or action/horror Species (1995).
Glazer seems to have made the film a pastiche to all of those titles whilst being a homage to Lynne Ramsey, without actually making the characters or story interesting?
Scarlet Johanssan seems to have an easy job of playing someone with no human emotions, and therefore makes the character redundant as either a protagonist or a plot device the same as David Bowie did in The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Hunger, in which he played both a dying alien and a dying vampire with more convincing emotion. Johanssan performance is alot more like HAL, the misanthropic totalitarian computer in 2001, the concept being that she is completely alien and indifferent to mankind and the ugliness of the council estates she mysteriously finds herself in where she hunts her prey.
Laura, the alien, is a black widow, similar to Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger, but also the predatory femme fatale in Shivers and Species, who although seducing and devouring victims through a strange process of slow chemical digestion, this has not been exploited for b-movie violence and shock value as those other titles.
A review by Bradshaw in The Guardian describes the film as ‘beautiful’ ‘scary’ and ‘erotic’, but watching Laura awkwardly cajole indigenous Scots to strip naked and flirt with her is not nearly as enticing as suggested. The only truly disturbing moment in the film comes when Laura watches a would-be victim runs to the rescue of a couple attempting to rescue their dog from the sea. The man fails in his attempts and the couple drown while their baby son sits on the shore and laughs obliviously. Laura simply knocks the man unconscious and drags his body away while ignoring the bawling infant.
I simply found the scene chilling and terrifying beyond words and would have preferred that Glazer would have used slightly a older child instead of a crawling infant to emphasis the lack of humanity.