“Under The Skin” (2014): A Slow Understanding (Review)

When I went to see this mind trip of a movie I noticed that this was written on the marquee:

“Under The Skin. Not Species 4 “

It’s the first thing one thinks a story that has Scarlett Johansson as an alien that seduces and preys on men would be about. It certainly could have gone that route, and become a somewhat cautionary tale. But Under The Skin has deeper meanings and themes that are not easy to understand, but still intriguing none the less. This has been called by a few critics and filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron as one of the best science fiction movies of the year. To an extent I can agree with that because it does uses something otherworldly to help explain the misconceptions that men and women have on each other. It still doesn’t make it that much easier to talk about. This is a movie you haft to have complete and total patience with. One critic compared director Jonathan Glazer with that of Stanley Kubrick, but I would say he has more in common with Terrence Malick than him for this feature.

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I can understand how one could see Kubrick when watching this flick.  Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are many moments where there are only visuals and no dialogue or even music.  The opening of the movie itself felt like the spaceships docking, but without the sounds of The Blue Danube to help accompany it. That opening sequence alone is worth seeing in theaters. It starts with a dark screen that has these really odd sounds all around you. You’re not seeing anything at all, and then suddenly. You see a small circle of light and begin going towards it. Once it reaches the light, you see other parts begin to form. The results are that of the human eye that are alien creature has taken form of. This is a really brilliant way to open a movie because you become transfixed and hypnotized by this moment as I’m sure the men that Scarlett Johansson’s character seduces do. Although to be fair if a girl who looks like her picks me up and asks me to come with her, not knowing her full intent, I would  be a dead man.

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Let’s say we switch things around and put Michael Fassbender as the driver who seduces and preys on women. The tone for me would be that of a thriller, because I know his intentions is to take these women to a place and have their organs harvest. I would become worried about these women and feel that they need protecting. What this movie shows is that maybe men should use a little caution too. I’m reminded of a movie called Basi Moi (Rape Me) where two women upset by how men degrade and treat them go on a spree where they seduce men and then kill them.  But Scarlett Johansson’s character never hurts any of the guys in this. They all choose to go their demise. When they begin following her inside her place, she starts to remove her clothes. As they progress they slowly become submerged in this liquid. Like they are walking in a pool from the shallow end to the deep portion. They all had a choice to leave, but still proceeded until it was too late. Are men stupid? Yes, we are. I can somewhat understand why a lot men wouldn’t use any caution because for years. We  have been told that women are the ones that we need to keep safe from all the predators out there. Women are not strong enough to take care of themselves. We have seen movies and TV shows that feature a strong woman who could easily kick my ass, but we never see them as a threat, especially when we are trying to have sex with them. When a girl seduces us, we are thinking that she wants the same thing. The idea that they could hurt us, doesn’t even enter our minds and it probably should. But yet we still continue to towards that pool no matter the outcome. I hope I haven’t upset too many women with my views on this.

Scarlett Johansson does a great job with an almost entirely silent performance. It’s very different from her work in Her where her voice was used constantly. Here she displays the growing emotions that humans feel and her character starts to have doubts about what she is doing towards the end. There are a few supportive characters but the main focus  rests all on her and she does a great job. The music by Mica Levi is very haunting as it combines ambient sounds and screeching violins to help create the Earth as seen by another person’s eyes. The film being set in Scotland does make certain moments that have dialogue, difficult for me to fully understand. Yet, since I was seeing this from an alien perspective it made sense because I wouldn’t be able to understand what humans were saying anyways. I sure hope I haven’t upset too many people from that region now either.

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Under The Skin is a movie that I will see again, but it’s slow pace and lack of conventional dialog may steer most people away from this. This is very much an art house flick. If you like movies such as Upstream Color or The Tree of Life you will be into this one, because the visuals in it are very good but if not it will be hard to sell you on it. The promise of Scarlett Johansson being fully nude will get certain guys into the theaters just for that moment. But they will easily fall asleep before they even had a chance to see it. I do want to read the book by Michael Faber now as I’m sure it will go into more details about that character’s life, more than the movie did.

Overall: 6.5/10

The Good: Really great Visuals, and Scarlett Johansson’s performance.

The Bad:  Slow pacing of the story.

The WTF:  All of the men that who were lured into the van by Johansson were non-actors.  They were told later on by director Jonathan Glazer about it being a movie.

Written By The Vern

Yes Hello people. It is I The Vern. Lover of movies, women, and whiskey, but not in that particular order. Besides writing for this site. I help co host The As You Watch podcast and help contribute to the world of films wherever I can.


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  • Three Rows Back

    Strong work my friend.

  • Thank you

  • I think I’ll end up disliking it. I read the novel and it has so much substance, they seem to leave all of this out for the sake of atmosphere. A shame, this could have been thought provoking sci-fi otherwise.

  • I can agree with that statement. Now I really want to read the book now. Thanks for the comment Sati

  • WriterLovesMovies.com

    I loved this one Vern. It’s definitely a thinker isn’t it? I was mulling it over for days afterwards. I can’t think of a recent sci-fi release that could even come close to rivalling this.

  • Thank you Natalie. I hope to watch this again in theaters soon. Like Gravity it’s the only Sci-Fi movie that is better on the Big Screen

  • I think I’d rate it a little higher, but I do agree that the pace is rather slow. I did get a little bored in the middle.
    Glad you liked Scarlett’s performance though!

  • The Vern

    She was really Good. in any case it deserves a 2nd watch from me