This was another case of coming across the trailer of a movie when news first hit the net and becoming fascinated by what I saw. A “curiosity request” I call these kinds of movie. Based on the trailer and how piqued my curiosity was I made a mental note to keep track of the film when a home video release was imminent, hoping it got to a distributor I could get a copy from.
I’m usually more adept at reviewing movies I’ve already seen, primarily genre flicks I’ve seen in my youth that are either just hitting blu-ray and/or DVD, or getting an upgraded from their old DVDs. “Curiosity requests” make me nervous. They can go either way. Sure the trailer had that indefinable something that made me want to see it, but that’s no assurance the movie will be to my liking and as a reviewer I tell you it’s Hell reviewing a movie that stinks.
I am here to tell you Under The Skin does not stink, far from it actually.
One of the things I liked about it was that it didn’t come off as a “typical Hollywood flick.” The closest thing to that I can equate it to, though, is Species (1995), but only in the general concept of an alien coming to earth, taking on a human female form and going about it’s nefarious business of doing nefarious things to the male population. In Species it was to breed and anyone who got in the way of that ended up dead. In Under The Skin the alien comes to earth to “feed” on male earthlings.
Despite it’s high concept that could have made the filmmakers go the “summer popcorn route” with it, they instead decided to make an almost stripped down intimate version of Species. Can’t say how much that movie was on their mind when they were making it since it’s actually based on the novel of the same name by Michel Faber, but I’m sure I’ll find out soon since the disc came with 42 minutes of behind-the-scenes extras.
Except for a couple of scenes, the movie stays so relentlessly with the alien-in-disguise all the way to its eventual demise it made me feel like a voyeur, which was a good thing. There is also very little dialogue in this film and when Scarlett Johansson, who plays the alien’s disguise, finally did speak I was a little surprised to hear a British accent. But that accent makes perfect sense. If you’re an alien predator hiding in sheep’s clothing among earthlings obviously your dialect is going to fit the region your stalking prey in and this alien decided to hunt in the UK. I think I was just taken aback because I’ve never heard Johansson sport a British accent before, and she does it very believably too.
Straying further from your typical Hollywood fare the movie never explains anything. There are no major supporting characters who stray in to explain or theorize, you simply get (or don’t get) what’s going by what you see unfolding. That was very refreshing. And again another aspect that made me feel voyeuristic.
The film starts off with imagery that involves an eyeball and audio that sounds like a woman trying to talk (this was actually Johannson’s voice and how she was being taught to speak with a British accent). The assumption I made was this was the alien creating its disguise and learning our language.
The next thing we see is a man on a motorcycle racing down a highway at night. At some point he pulls over, saunters down a hill and returns with a female slung over his shoulders. He takes her to this van and inside we go into some kind of “other world.” This environment is all white; you cannot distinguish floor from ceiling. Here a naked Johansson stripes this prone girl of her cloths, puts them on and before the scene ends is fascinated by a small ant she finds crawling on the chick.
For most of the movie the alien drives around in this van hunting for prey. Her M.O. is to pull over and ask for directions like she’s lost, she makes small talk and then starts asking personal questions. It’s amazing to see how none of the men were suspicious by her line of questioning. But then I quickly reasoned it’s a hot girl making small talk; it’s easy for any male in this circumstance to ignore any red flags his subconscious might raise, especially if there’s a chance that small talk might lead to sex.
Men are such easy prey.
It’s that damn libido that screws us every time.
For a while I thought she was practicing with these guys. Practicing her conversation skills, but she was only looking for the right prey. One that lives alone, one that doesn’t have any particular place to go, or a girlfriend, or is a visible outcast, as is the case with one she picks up who has a serious disfigurement. Once the victim is targeted she lures them back to her lair (aka this dilapidated house whose interior outdoes the extreme creepiness of Barlow’s house in the 1979 version of Salem’s Lot) and up to a room on the second floor.
Once there it gets weird like the van, except it’s not a white room, but a black one, with a reflective floor. Johansson lures them deeper into the darkness, shedding cloths as she goes. The men do the same (lot of male full frontal nudity here) and then at some point they just sink into the floor. Underneath they hover, like in space, until their innards are sucked out in an instant leaving nothing but a transparent skin suit floating about. The next scene that followed was one of a river of what I assume is their blood flowing to some unknown destination in the distance.
I liked Johansson’s performance. Most of the time she exhibits no emotional state at all. She only stares, looks, glances and observes. Only when she’s engaged in conversation does she show any kind of “earthly emotions,” but the instant she stops conversing her face becomes a blank slate again.
Remember that guy on the motorcycle I mentioned? He shows up enough in this movie that I quickly began to think of him as an “alien cleaner.” The man she targets on the beach tells her he has a tent over in the distance, after she takes him, this accompanying male alien arrives later on and takes the tent down, and all his things. This “cleaning” even goes as far as taking out a human. Johansson’s alien is pretty much in the predator role for a good chunk of the movie, but then something happens, and identity crisis from what I could make out, which seems to really take hold when that disfigured man she takes up to the second floor ends up escaping. No idea how it happened. He’s just outside, naked, and she’s for lack of a better word, “surprised.”
The man wonders around and either onto the property of his own house of someone else’s. The mail alien finds him and even though it’s not shown you’ll understand he was killed, stuffed into the trunk of a car and driven off.
The last 30 minutes or so our female alien assumes the unwanted and I’m sure unplanned role of prey as she tries to fit in, eat, and accept love and sex from an earth male. The attempted intercourse sends her fleeing into the woods and it is here she meets her death at the hands of another earth male, one that tries to rape her. In her final moments we finally get to see what’s under the skin and it’s a creepy scene as she stares at her “mask.”
I was conflicted about this ending, which I always assumed would be coming. On the one hand I felt sorry for her, but on the other had she not gone through this “identity crisis” she’d still be in the role of “predatory alien invader” and the last time I checked those kind of aliens are not to be grieved for when they meet their end.
Lionsgate released this movie this past Tuesday on separate DVD and Blu-ray releases with accompanying digital copies. Your general specs are as follows: aspect ratio is 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen high definition with a 5.1 DTS-MA English audio track only and with English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles.
As for extras you get nine featurettes (Camera, Casting, Editing, Locations, Music, Poster Design, Script, Sound and VFX), all of these can be played individually or all at once for a total run time of 42 minutes, 23 seconds. There are no subtitle options for the extras.
Obviously from just viewing the movie I could tell it probably wasn’t filmed in a conventional way; how the actors were listed in the end credits backs this notion up further since there were no character names next to them, but watching all these featurettes shows you exactly how they did it and they did it by filming on the sly. It’s mentioned that there are professional actors in the movie, but the men she picked up were non-actors. They’ve been in front of a camera but have never acted before. I assume this means their experience is mostly as being extras.
Small cameras were strategically placed inside the van and the men knew they were in a movie, but never knew which camera was filming them, which made the interactions with the “alien girl” more freeing. Apparently all the moments Johansson was in public was filmed like this, which makes me wonder if all the people who helped her up after she accidentally tripped out on the street knew who she was or if they were being filmed?
The only thing that temporarily turned me off in this flick was the scene with the baby who was crying frantically on the beach after his parents just drowned and was subsequently ignored by Johansson as she dragged her latest victim away, and then later on ignored again when the “cleaner” came to retrieve a piece of clothing.
I thought, shit, someone pick the kid up!
Save the kid!
Why is there no one around to save this kid?!
Of note is Johansson’s full front nude scene in the latter half of the movie. On the net you can find a better still of it that doesn’t have all the deep, dark shadows that just barely gives you a glimpse of her bush.
Oh, and, no, there was no mentions of Species whatsoever.
In closing if there’s any moral to this tale it’s this…all you aliens who are planning on invading the earth by coming down here and mimicking one of us better have your shit together, because, if you don’t, the human condition will kick your ass.