Under The Skin (2013). Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Friday (1/10), 01:30, Film4. Stream from BFI or BFI Player on Amazon. Rent or buy from Apple.

Anyone with a fantasy about alien abduction should definitely see Under The Skin – or, then again, maybe not. That is only if you would like to be seduced by an alien and then  – small spoiler alert – disappear.

Director Jonathan Glazer cast Scarlett Johansson as the said alien – or, again, maybe not – so that might pique your interest in such an abduction, but you should beware of any happy ending. I have to admit to having been unimpressed with some of Ms Johansson’s early work.  I do not much recall any of her teenage oeuvre, but thought she was rather limp in her adult breakthrough role in Lost in Translation (2003), although it is not easy to play against Bill Murray.  Similarly in Girl with a Pearl Earring (same year) having to play opposite Colin Firth could not have been easy for a woman who was still under 20.  Whatever she did in the next decade must have been preparing her for Under The Skin, in which she is mesmerising.

In a way, this is a rather old-fashioned type of sci-fi film.  Creature comes to earth, creature decides he/she likes the popcorn here, decides to stay, scares the bejeezus out of the locals and then… Well, you know what humans – and I don’t just mean Tories or Trump-lovers – think about aliens.  

In a funny way, this film made me think of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).  Even I am not old enough to have seen that film on release, but I do recall, as a pre-pubescent New Yorker, having been fixated on the scene when the very large creature – who was an antecedent to the creature in The Shape of Water –  swims below the lovely Julie Adams. Ooh.

Of course, Under The Skin offers a perfect segue into gender reversal, with Ms Johansson cruising around the underbelly of a dark and seedy Glasgow – replacing the small seedy towns of America seen in many of the 1950s sci-fi films – looking for red meat.  I will leave the rest to your imagination. Now that Ms Johansson is a firm A-lister – the highest paid female film star in 2018-19, according to those publication that know such things – we are unlikely see her in any such small indie film again, so enjoy it while you can.

[Editor’s note. This film should not be confused with Carine Adler’s extraordinary 1997 Under the Skin, starring debutante Samantha Morton as a young woman who copes with her grief for the loss of her mother by seeking oblivion through meaningless promiscuity. Writer/director Adler based her story on ideas in forensic psychiatrist and analyst Estela Welldon’s Mother Madonna Whore, which argued that damaged women deal with trauma through self-destructive behaviour: self-mutilation, promiscuity and the objects they see as their own creations, including their babies.

Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson has gone on not only to become huge star, but also one of the most important players in the industry, thanks to her legal action against Disney for forcing its subsidiary Marvel to release Black Widow simultaneously in movie theatres and on its premium streaming service Disney+. Disney will argue that it did so for reasons of public safety. Johansson’s team will argue that it did so to increase the personal fortunes of two Disney executives, Bob Iger and Bob Chapel. It is an extremely important and fascinating case for anyone interested in the future of cinema. Here’s an interesting blog post by a Disney-watcher.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *