under the skin poster

Film Review – Under the Skin (15) by Alex O’Meara

Under the Skin (15)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Written by: Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell. Based upon the novel by Michel Faber

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Paul Brannigan and Adam Pearson.

Runtime: 108 minutes


Jonathan Glazer makes his return to film after a ten year break with Under the Skin and it appears the ten year wait has been worth it. This is his third feature film after Sexy Beast and Birth, although he’s done a lot of work with commercials and music videos. Under the Skin follows an unnamed alien seductress as she prowls the streets of Glasgow for lonely men she can prey on. The film follows the character as she experiences humanity and the world for the first time. What’s this being here for? Where did she/it come from? What is that black room she leads the men into? What is the mysterious liquid her victims sink into? Under the Skin is a film that is not concerned with giving you definitive answers to all the questions it poses. Instead, it leaves the interpretations up to the viewer. The film moves along at a methodical pace that may prove difficult for some to watch but I found it perfectly builds tension slowly and proves to be a rewarding viewing experience.

Scarlett Johansson gives what many have called the best performance of her career here. The actress is disguised in a black wig, a faux fur coat, acid wash jeans and an English accent. She drives through Glasgow in a white van in hopes to lure any men she thinks will not be missed by anyone back to her place. These scenes are shot candid camera style, many of the men did not recognise the actress and were unaware they were being filmed. Johansson effortlessly switches between charming seductress and ice cold predator, sometimes it happens so quickly you’re unaware the switch has even happened. The performance isn’t dialogue heavy, she has few lines usually related to discovering if her prey will be missed or not. She relies heavily on her facial expressions to emote throughout and she shows she’s up to the challenge. We see the character experience things such as kindness for the first time. She looks in wonder at many of the citizens of the city when she’s not on the prowl, she wants to become part of this society. It’s her bravest performance to date, for sure.

The screeching score by Mica Levi is her first film score and it is an amazing achievement. The score ranges from creepy to seductive (a mixture of the two during the “seduction scenes”) to hauntingly beautiful. You’ll have a tough time shaking the terrifying score from your mind after the film has finished, it’s like something that nightmares are made of at times. Thematically, there are many different things you can take from the film. It can be said it’s about isolation, the female image or seeing the world from a fresh perspective. One thing’s for sure, it’s a commentary on modern society and how people are treated within it. This can be seen with the disfigured character Johansson encounters, he is forced to shop at night due to people’s ignorance towards him and his condition. Johansson doesn’t seem to pay any attention to his condition, instead complimenting him on his hands. She doesn’t see him as a disfigured man, maybe the film’s point is that if only society was the same in viewing him he could live a peaceful existence. The female image is something that is explored throughout the film. It seems to be telling us that women are treated unfairly and mostly judged based upon their looks. If the gender of the lead character was changed to male, I don’t think it would be possible for the film to be made in the covert fashion it was or for it to even be believable. What woman is going to get into a van with a strange man? It doesn’t matter how attractive they find him, it’s not going to happen. The film makes it clear that women are not as idiotic as men. They just take one glance at Johansson’s character and climb into her van. The basic premise of the film only works because of how many men look at women. Johansson seems to be aware of this and with her recent film roles like Her and Don Jon is beginning to take control of her image in the spotlight. Finding an article discussing the actress without finding the adjectives “sexy” or “gorgeous” is quite a difficult task. The actress performs some scenes including full frontal nudity, but these scenes are anything but sexy as many of her male fans would be hoping they would be. Those watching the film solely for nudity will be sorely disappointed. The scenes are cold and clinical, but important to the development of her character. Under the Skin is not concerned with being sexy, it aims to make us look past a person’s physical appearance to what is under the skin and succeeds.

Verdict:  Unlike anything you’ll see this year. The film succeeds due to Glazer’s marvellous vision, Johansson’s commitment to the role and Mica Levi’s terrifying score. Essential viewing for any film fan. If you have the patience, it’s a rewarding experience that you won’t soon forget. A work of pure genius from opening frame to its haunting final shot.


Available now on DVD/Blu-ray