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Under the Skin (2013)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Adam Pearson, Paul Brannigan, Kevin McAlinden

Written By: Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell, Michael Faber (novel)

Directed By: Jonathan Glazer

The Shot

Under the Skin is an exceptionally cinematic sci fi art house flick that will rub a lot of audiences the wrong way, but I find it fascinating.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Contemplated quietly.

Pairs Well With...


Drink enough and who knows what you might see?  Drink slowly instead and think about it.

“You think I’m pretty?”

“I think you’re gorgeous.”

“Do you?”

“Aye; definitely.”


Let’s get the big, obvious stuff out of the way first, shall we?

Odds are that if you’d heard of Under the Skin before landing here, you’d done so because some corner of the Internet (or perhaps a horny roommate) had informed you that it features headliner Scarlett Johansson performing in a significant number of nude scenes (including full frontal and full rear, leading at least one well-known site to declare this film as featuring “the best celebrity nude scene of all time”).  The Internet (or your roommate) has not lied to you, so if you decide to watch Under the Skin for that reason and that reason alone, you will indeed get what you paid for… but you’ll also probably come away very confused.

That would be a shame, because if one watches Under the Skin with brain cells fully engaged, what unfolds on the screen is something far richer and more thought provoking than a simple peep show.  It is, in fact, one of the most interesting art house science fiction movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

Your mileage may vary.  Wildly.

Under the Skin lives in that special corner of the art house that many like to call “experimental.”  There is a whispered string of words behind the opening credits (cheers to you if you catch the subtle nod to The Stepford Wives), but there’s no genuine dialogue in the film until roughly thirteen minutes in, and those lines are rare and spare.  Exposition is something that happens in other movies; Under the Skin prefers to tell its story visually, explaining nothing via dialogue that it can present with images alone.  (For those who can’t pierce the depths of thick Scottish accents, this might be considered a service.)  If you can’t figure out exactly who/what Scarlett Johansson’s character is supposed to be on your own, this the makers of this movie have no sympathy for you.  (The marketing people do, though; the box blurb notes that she’s an alien.)  If the nature of the dilemma that drives her to suddenly alter her behavior halfway through the film strikes you as odd, there’s nothing in the script to assist the slow class.  And if you get up to use the plumbing facilities without first pressing the “pause” button… wait, why would you do that after the first item we covered, really?

In a decade of short attention spans with Hollywood blockbusters designed to be transparently followed by anyone who’s made it even halfway through elementary school, a movie like Under the Skin that forces the viewer to pay constant attention to the screen and fill in every gigantic blank for him or herself is practically guaranteed to annoy the average mainstream audience.  Even beyond the lack of exposition, the screenplay and the director go out of their way to take away comfort zones of every kind on a consistent basis.  This is a film that stands up and dares people to call it “pretentious,” and being fair, I don’t think I could properly blame anyone who chose to take up the offer.  It is, again, very much in the “experimental” corner of the art house…

But my, I do love what they’ve done with the place, myself.

Under the Skin deals with one of my all-time favorite cinematic and literary themes, probing the question of what it truly means to be human in a unique and interesting way.  The emphasis on visual storytelling brings with it a thought process that can’t be recollected or discussed with a simple reading of lines, and that perspective change forces the audience to consider avenues often left covered in dust.  Scarlett Johansson’s performance is compelling on all levels, and her frequent appearances in reduced or absent dress are anything but a mere peep show gimmick; the nudity – both hers and that of the many men drawn into her character’s lair, including one with severe facial disfigurement that is not make-up – is, indeed, essential to the proper telling of the story.  The moral crossroads being explored are all the more powerful for the starkly unapologetic way in which they are portrayed (the beach scene is heartbreaking not just once but twice), and the film’s climactic moment is as unexpected as it is unsettling.  Comfort?  Easy answers?  Not here.  Lots to consider, though?  Oh, yes.

But to tell you much more would be to take away some of the power of the initial experience, so I think I’ll leave things there.  Besides, I’m pretty sure that you can already tell whether or not Under the Skin will be your cup of tea.  If the answer is no, I do understand, but if the answer is yes… drink deep, my friends, and enjoy something special.

Unsettling, but special.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2015

More From The Bar! | Ex Machina | Lucy | Species | The Neon Demon |

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