Friday, January 8, 2016

Before I Die #562: Under the Skin (2014)

This is the 562nd of the 1,172 films on the "Before You Die" list that I am gradually working my way through.

Director: Jonathan Glazer

A very self-assured, measured, and meditative blend of science-fiction and horror.

Under the Skin is a tale of an alien on Earth; Scotland, to be precise. It takes on the appearance of an attractive young woman (Scarlett Johannson), and it uses sexual wiles to lure men into a lair where they are trapped and eventually devoured in a fashion similar to certain insects' prey. Eventually, though, the alien starts to show some slight signs of empathy and self-awareness. This does not seem to sit well with her watcher/guardian, which both assists and monitors her moves.

This movie is unlike nearly any other science-fiction film I've seen, and it is not difficult to see why it is divisive among audiences. Any viewer who tuned in to see a Species-type of exploitation splatter- and sex-fest, or even simply to bask in Scarlett Johannson's physical beauty, was bound to be confounded and disappointed. Though there are a handful of moments with shocking and amazing visuals, Under the Skin is a measured film of very deliberate pace. This leaves a lot of quiet space and time for us viewers to ponder and attempt to make sense of the many unanswered questions about the alien and its motivations. This was bound to be a bit too demanding for those looking for broader or more action-based entertainment.

Since the film leaves out any sort of explicit answers as to the alien's ultimate goals or actions, the movie can be read in many different ways. Some are likely to see it as commentary on sexuality. Others will probably read into it the themes of power and gender. Still others may take away messages about feminism and empathy. All of these possibilities ran through my mind as I watched the alien cruise the human world, initially looking for prey but eventually looking for something which she could feel but not recognize. This is the mark of an interesting and artistic film: one that can be interpreted many ways, with nearly all of the interpretations being valid.

The only thing I can criticize about the movie is that it does drag just a little bit during the second act, when the pattern of the alien finding a lone man, luring said man to its lair, and then trapping it, did become just a touch monotonous. However, this only amounted to perhaps about 5 or 10 minutes of the movie which felt slightly redundant. Those aside, I found Under the Skin to be a confident, challenging movie that is one of the most unique sci-fi films released in the last twenty years.