Under the Skin (2013)

‘Under the Skin’ is aptly named. It will get under yours

Photo of Scarlett Johansson in ‘Under the Skin’

Scarlett Johansson in ‘Under the Skin’


If an alien came to earth and decided to hang out with the locals, would she arrive naked and have to don a dead girl’s clothes? If you were advanced enough to manufacture a human body and teach it to speak, couldn’t you at least stitch up tight jeans and a blouse?

But if you did, then you wouldn’t have so nearly a provocative beginning as you do when the alien (Scarlett Johansson), seemingly suspended in a stark-white environment, nearly in silhouette, strips the clothes off a dead body and dons them herself. Under the Skin further announces its arthouse roots when she finishes, becoming intrigued by a tiny preying mantis-like insect. Talk about heavy-handed foreshadowing.

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Though she apparently had to learn how to speak, she does know how to drive, how to shop for lipstick, how to ask for directions, and how to make small talk. At first she cruises the neighborhood in her van, obviously trolling for guys. We get some clue at her agenda when she gives a guy a ride, makes some seductive suggestions and, next thing you know, they’re on this all-black stage. She’s backing away, he’s following. They’re shedding clothes as they go. Then … next scene.

OK, so she’s a predator. Why is she collecting men? Who’s that guy who appears to be her handler? What’s with the black pool? Why does she begin to … but no. To ask more questions is to give away too much, for there is too little left.

This is not your kind of movie if you like a plot, character development, and stakes that you care about. This is your kind of movie if you enjoy provocative imagery and discordant music (the style reminds me strongly of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris), chained to a storyline that just ends rather than concludes. In fact you’ll want to watch this one several times to fully appreciate the symbolism, the 70s arthouse aesthetic, and Scarlett Johansson’s justly praised performance.


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