Critics over the moon for Under the Skin
First, a question: Who’s Twice as Hot as Scarlett Johansson? Answer: Scarlett Johansson and her twin brother Hunter. I wish I’d known Ms. Johansson had a twin brother on National Siblings Day. But none of you mooks ever told me, so now I have no real excuse for posting these photos. Do we even need an excuse? I suppose we could pad this out with some of the best reviews of the year for the female twin who stars in Under the Skin. (Rex Reed and and Lou Lumenik HATED it, a sure sign that it’s fantastic.)
Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: If I tell you that Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is one of the strangest and most disturbing science-fiction films of recent years, it’s a true statement that points you in entirely the wrong direction. If I add that the movie also involves Scarlett Johansson taking off her clothes on several occasions, I’m leading you into a trap almost as surely as Johansson’s character leads the men she picks up on the Glasgow streets. It’s almost as if Glazer, previously the director of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth” and a bunch of music videos for Blur, Radiohead and others, has given himself an assignment: Make a visionary, haunting and utterly distinctive sci-fi picture featuring naked ScarJo, and make it unbearably frustrating for anyone who’d be drawn to that description.
More proof that advanced species exist, after the cut.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Ebert.com: Is “Under the Skin,” in which Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious woman luring men into a fatal mating dance, a brilliant science fiction movie—more of an “experience” than a traditional story, with plenty to say about gender roles, sexism and the power of lust? Is it a pretentious gloss on a very old story about men’s fear of women, and women’s discomfort with their own allure? Does it contain mysteries that can only be unpacked with repeat viewings, or is it a shallow film whose assured style and eerie tone make it seem deeper than it is? Is there, in fact, something beneath the movie’s skin? Why is every sentence in this paragraph a question?
I can answer that last one: “Under the Skin,” Jonathan Glazer’s first film since 2004’s “Birth,” is special because it’s hard to pin down. It doesn’t move or feel like most science fiction movies—like most movies, period. It’s a film out of its time. Its time, I think, is the 1970s, when directors like Alexander Jodorowsky (“El Topo,” “The Holy Mountain”) and Nicolas Roeg (“Don’t Look Now,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth”) made viscerally intense features with subjective visuals and sound effects and music and dissociative editing. Certain modern filmmakers still work in this mode occasionally—for instance, the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, whose 1998 film “A Taste of Cherry” shares some odd similarities with “Under the Skin.” As you watch any of those films, you think about what they’re trying to say, or what they “mean,” or on a much simpler level, what the heck is happening from one minute to the next. But at a certain point you realize that on the simplest level, such films are saying: “Here is an experience that’s nothing like yours, and here are some images and sounds and situations that capture the essence of what the experience felt like; watch the movie for a couple of hours, and when it’s over, go home and think about what you saw and what it did to you.”
Dave Calhoun, Time Out London: ET landed in the cosy American suburbs and wanted to go home. Now Scarlett Johansson – or something that looks like her – lands in modern Glasgow and thinks about sticking around in Jonathan Glazer’s creepy, mysterious and bold ‘Under the Skin’. One can only guess that the weather is beyond dire on her side of the galaxy. The film is an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel and the first in nearly a decade from the director of ‘Sexy Beast’ and ‘Birth’. It’s an intoxicating marvel, strange and sublime: it combines sci-fi ideas, gloriously unusual special effects and a sharp atmosphere of horror with the everyday mundanity of a woman driving about rainy Scotland in a battered transit van.
…Johansson’s performance is necessarily quiet, her look subtly out of this world. She utters her few lines in a refined English accent, while presumably most of the rest of the cast are non-professionals. Mico Levi’s score ups the dread level: it sounds at times like a new electronic language being born or a subtle form of communication between aliens. It’s a serious, often bleak film – a scene of a family faced with drowning is the film’s most horrific moment – but a wry humour stops it taking itself too seriously. It’s a story of a predator becoming prey, and it asks us to look at our world again with something like the fresh eyes of the martian poetry of Craig Raine, although that element of the film isn’t too laboured. Perhaps more interestingly, it offers some provocative sideways views on seduction, sexual power and its abuse. Daring and thoughtful.
Xan Brooks, The Guardian: When a strange and unclassifiable beast walks into the world, the public has a tendency to split down the middle. One camp is beguiled and the other repulsed. Such is the experience of the vampiric space alien played by Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin, and so it is with the film itself…
Johansson proves bizarrely engrossing as the unnamed succubus, fetchingly augmented with jet-black hair and blood-red lipstick, who drives a van around Scotland in search of her prey. The men she meets are bored and horny and can’t believe their good fortune. The alien duly lures them in with polite, persistent questions, barely pausing to hear the replies…
We are never told where this alien is from or what she’s doing, exactly, although the film takes its lead from a 2001 novel by Michel Faber. Slice it open and one realises that Under the Skin is actually a hybrid of two hackneyed film genres. It’s indebted on the one side to the psychosexual horror movie in which feckless, lusty youths receive their comeuppance and, on the other, to those fish-out-of-water capers (like ET, or even Splash) about kooky visitors from the wide blue yonder. And yet the director works a magic on this material. He takes tired old prose and spins it into poetry.
In a perfect world, Glazer would win the top prize on Sunday and not have to wait another nine years before he makes his next film. But we do not live in a perfect world, and Under the Skin is perhaps best viewed as an icy parable of love, sex and loneliness…
Anthony Lane, The New Yorker: The director of “Sexy Beast” (2000) and “Birth” (2004), Jonathan Glazer, has taken nine years to deliver his third feature. His devotees, who enjoy nothing more than to be hypnotized by his imagery into a state of confusion and wonder, will consider the result worth waiting for; his detractors will chide its pretensions. Scarlett Johansson, making not so much a sharp career move as a leap into terra incognita, plays a nameless woman who drives around Glasgow, chatting with young men (most of whom, during filming, neither recognized the star nor knew that they were even in a movie). She takes some of them back to her lair, where the mood, the landscape, and the soundscape (courtesy of an extraordinary score by the young British composer Mica Levi) are transformed, and where we realize that the temptress is, in fact, a bringer of death. Her origins and motives are unexplained, although, in her eyes, the same could be said of humanity; pitiless at the start, she grows more inquisitive about our mortal habits, and that curiosity takes her into the rural wilderness, and into a danger zone. Glazer is nothing if not ambitious; the rough edge of naturalism, on the streets, slices into the more controlled and stylized look of science fiction, and the result seems both to drift and to gather to a point of almost painful intensity.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times: Scarlett Johansson as an extraterrestrial femme fatale cruising the streets of Glasgow in Jonathan Glazer’s cerebral sci-fi horror fantasy “Under the Skin” is an indelible personification of predatory allure. Wearing a dark wig and a fake-fur jacket, her character, an alien with a sinister agenda, is as fetishized an object of desire as Marlene Dietrich admired through the lens of Josef von Sternberg. You may also think of Ava Gardner, as perfect a female specimen as Hollywood ever produced, coldly working her wiles.
Ms. Johansson’s luscious, cherry-red lips, onto which she is shown daubing deeper shades of crimson, seem to have an extra cushion of softness. In “Under the Skin,” it is as if the voice of Samantha — the operating system Ms. Johansson voiced in “Her” — has taken human form. But instead of a seemingly empathetic cyberfriend, she turns out to be a heartless humanoid temptress from outer space.
In the movie’s striking opening sequence, this otherworldly siren first appears as a speck of light that expands into a disc, which forms into an unblinking eye. Accompanying this metamorphosis is a scratchy electronic soundtrack by Mica Levi that suggests vaguely melodic static emanating from another galaxy.
That eye belongs to Ms. Johansson, whose character later appears as the driver of a white van that makes its way through the crowded streets of Glasgow. She periodically stops to ask for directions from men, then offers them a ride and beckons them to follow her as she removes her clothes and sidles backward…
“Under the Skin” was filmed in tones of darkness. Ms. Johansson’s expressionless character is frequently seen in shadow, out of which she emerges like a film-noir vamp. The van was equipped with tiny surveillance cameras to capture her interactions with the victims, real-life hitchhikers unaware that they were being filmed. Ms. Johansson’s husky voice, with its cultivated London accent, is as seductive as her body, which she brazenly displays. Because the men have thick Scottish brogues that render much of what they say unintelligible, they seem as alien as she does, and you begin to see these earthlings through her eyes.
Noel Murray, The Dissolve: Without a single word of narration, Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel Under The Skin gets across one woman’s perspective — which isn’t easy, given that she’s an alien. Faber had the benefit of his own prose to describe what was going through the head of his heroine, Isserley: He inventoried her anxieties as she drove down Scottish motorways, looking for men to seduce and ensnare. Glazer’s main character — now named “Laura,” and played by Scarlett Johansson — reveals nothing of herself directly. She’s a single-minded huntress, who talks with men as though she’s reading from a script, knowing all she has to do is show any interest, and most of her prey will eagerly hop into her trap. But every now and then, Glazer shows Laura out of her element, at a shopping mall or a nightclub, and her bafflement is almost poignant. And sometimes Glazer shows Laura very much in her element, and it’s the audience’s turn to be baffled, as the screen and the soundtrack become an overwhelming flood of scary abstraction.
The movie Under The Skin is bold, and in some ways strikingly different from the novel. While the book was a character sketch overlaid with a cheeky anti-ranching analogy/critique (related to what happens to the men Isserley catches), the movie is overtly cinematic, using the book’s rough outline for a series of setpieces: some bizarrely visionary, some creepily mundane. The former are likely to get the most attention, from art-film devotees and genre buffs alike. Long stretches of Under The Skin resemble a hybrid of Stanley Kubrick films, shifting from the head-trip sensation of 2001’s stargate sequence to The Shining’s ominous tracking shots to A Clockwork Orange’s depictions of a crumbling United Kingdom fraught with peril.
The mundane parts of Under The Skin are even more daring in their way. To document Laura’s hunts, Glazer sent Johansson out in a van equipped with hidden cameras and microphones, and had her stop and chat with ordinary guys on the street. Johansson never breaks character; she fakes her way through social interactions, repeating what people say to her with a thin smile and a blank stare. Between the thick accents of Laura’s potential victims and her own inability to understand humanity, Under The Skin becomes like a documentary, made by aliens, about life in Scottish cities and towns. There’s even a touch of Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar to Laura’s story, as Glazer asks the audience to look through the eyes of a mostly silent misfit, muddling her way through Scotland. Only the discordant music and some intentionally choppy editing connects the softer Under The Skin scenes to the sojourns into other dimensions.