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Friday, 25 April 2014 00:00

'Under the Skin' gets under the skin in unpleasant ways + Video

'Under the Skin' gets under the skin in unpleasant ways flavorwire.com
Written by Diane Carson
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"Under the Skin" wants to be an edgy, atmospheric, imaginative, sci-fi film. It succeeds only in ponderous, self-conscious pretentiousness at a slow pace. For an hour 47 minutes, co-writer/director Jonathan Glazer dwells on suggestions that amount to little more than superficial ideas as he lingers on the alien, played by Scarlett Johansson, showing minimal action or reaction.

The result is an enervating story largely drained of color and content. After landing on Earth and adopting another woman's appearance, the unnamed extraterrestrial cruises Glasgow streets casually picking up male victims and luring them to her home trap. Reportedly, in the character's disguise of a black wig, Johansson did drive around in a van and talk with men unaware of the recording surveillance cameras. I find this ethically objectionable stunt filmmaking.

Nevertheless, "Under the Skin" lacks sufficient story or character development, with only an incremental change in the alien by the end. Glazer's "Nasty Beast" succeeded as an imaginative reinterpretation of a crime thriller, but this film plods along with long takes. Glazer deliberately keeps the camera back from the action, diminishing our emotional investment in league with the alien's indifference to tragedy. For example, a trip to a rocky beach finds rough surf pulling a swimmer increasingly out to sea. From a distance, the camera watches an attempted rescue, resisting the sympathetic involvement we expect in conventional stories. Similarly, the male and female nudity is equally lacking in any eroticism. Moreover, the men get insulted beginning to end as easily seduced and morally bankrupt.

The explanatory details of Michel Faber's novel, on which the film is based, have been jettisoned. We never learn why the alien ensnares male victims nor do their reactions figure prominently. Therefore, Glazer achieves his goal--dark moody estrangement, a lack of empathy for others, isolation, some confusion. And Mica Levi's unsettling sound design intensifies the effect.

But unless obtuse, slow subject matter appeals, "Under the Skin" convinced me only that Scotland is beautiful, Johansson is radiant, and this film is a sophomoric bore. At a Landmark Theatre.

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