Under the skin

2014 Aug 25

Under The Skin.

A movie inspired by Michael Faber’s novel of the same name. The premise alone promises a lot. After all, the novel is a fantastic story, very original, and contains insightful commentary on our patriarchal society, gender relations, equality, beauty, identity, etc.

Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end.

The movie has been hailed as revolutionary, it has been compared to Mullholland Drive, Enemy, Naked Lunch, and Glazer has been iconified next to names like Lars Von Trier, Kubrick, and David Lynch. At the same time, it has been called “a tedious bore”, “nothing”, “progressively infuriating”, and “Complete and utter garbage. Kubrick would roll over in his grave” by critics.

Let’s get one thing out of the way - the movie’s shocking. It is designed to stun the viewer before even a single frame is shown. We’ll get to that later. However, shock value alone does not a good picture make.

I’m going to start with the soundtrack, which I did not like much. It makes a conscious but untimely (musically speaking) effort to underline the action, and further shock the viewer - as if one doesn’t already have enough on their plate with the nonexistent dialog and intentionally incomplete script. The soundtrack does a good job conveying the detached nature of the Alien (let’s call her that) and her work. If I may be allowed, I’d also say it is very Edinburgh, as well. Fitting. At the same time, its minimalism is annoying and stressful. Intentionally so.

Let’s get to the script. Michael Faber’s writing - the wonderful parts as well as the awkward metaphors - is nowhere to be seen, of course. With it, most plot points are also gone. The movie sticks to the brutal work that the viewer has to accept has to be done - the perpetrators could be aliens or the NSA, have fun with it, one will never be told. One will never be told of who the motorcycle man is, either, or why he so faithfully covers up the Alien’s tracks and enables all this questionable way of going about harvesting single males for their..flesh? I suppose. I found Scotland to be a magnificent choice for the picture; its scenery fits perfectly with the character of the film, dark and decadent, calm yet bustling. Having read the novel, I can’t help but point out the picture falls short - perhaps a narrator wouldn’t work with the kind of film Glazer wanted this to be, however the trade-off is that he has to skip essential elements into the social commentary this movie ought (and tries!) to be. Overall, intentional vagueness does not a good story tell.

The picture left me hanging. On one hand, there is some visually (aesthetically?) pleasing, stunning and disturbing imagery, all of which plays into the whole charade that’s set up, with all the vague references and let the reader write the story kind of thing. On the other hand, this intentional need to be abstract and not in-your-face direct about a message (because why would you bother with something obvious) makes it frustratingly incomprehensible. It must sound like an oxymoron having written what I already wrote, but I don’t think I would have understood this film if I hadn’t read the book first. Also, it seems each scene’s duration is intentionally and sufficiently dilated; I can confirm this is not just boredom I’m talking about, as the film is really light on content.

The acting, overall, I’d characterise as very convincing. Above all, Scarlett Johansson proves she has real acting chops, and is not just fit for Marvel’s CGI freak shows. It’s probably high time Hollywood stopped focusing the camera on her ass, and tried some other angles. I found her performance extraordinary, capturing exactly the Alien’s character and its unusual reactions & dilemmas. The movie shows very well the contrast between how creepy and disturbing the events are, and the beautiful, likeable even, characters. Ultimately, the whole thing (like, the movie) hinges on the mystery that surrounds it, and this works out very well for the acting, the actors have really done a great work here. The others…not so much.

Overall, the hype surrounding this movie makes you think Hell itself will open up and demons will devour your very reality at the very action of watching it. The creepy and disturbing feeling of the book is completely lost here. One can certainly comment positively on the acting and Glazer’s ambitious vision, but the end result doesn’t satisfy.

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