Glazer’s new film really does get under the skin

Under the Skin (2013) – dir: Jonathan Glazer


Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Those expecting something similar to his vibrantly surreal cult hit Sexy Beast (2000) might be in for a bit of a shock. Under the Skin is bleak, harrowingly bleak. The film follows Scarlett Johannson’s character, an unnamed alien who spends much of her time trawling Glasgow in a white van in order to prey on unsuspecting men.

This is real virtuoso filmmaking and much of it is incredibly daring. The extensive sequences showing Johannson driving about were filmed with miniature hidden cameras and depict the actresses true to life improvisations – in all their eerie coldness. Much of the film aims to try and show the world we know through the eyes of something without our frames of reference – an alien – and it does so with startling visual mastery. In seeing the world through her eyes we see a heartbreaking coldness to it, and an unnerving sense of otherness. The familiar streets of Glasgow become a lonely alien environment.

The film hinges on Johannson’s performance, which is superb. Her brutally cold and unfeeling actions are chillingly executed (watch out for the beach scene, which will leave you very cold indeed). Much of the film really depends on her objectification as a woman (which interestingly runs parallel to her views about her career), and in her Glazer has found someone who he can really fetishise in front of camera, dwelling long on her eyes and face, and using her as visual bait for both her unfortunate victims and cinema-goers.

Essentially, with its scenes and shots of both startling coldness and beauty, we have a truly important, if somewhat inaccessible film. The transformation that begins to ‘afflict’ the alien serves fantastically to highlight the film’s themes of beauty, ugliness and kindness, which are at the very root of our human existences.

Written by Ferdie Simon