Back in the day, my friends and I used to hold a weekly film night. Taking turns each week, one of us would bring along a movie that the others hadn’t seen before in an attempt to broaden their horizons.
Some of the efforts brought along were good (like Gregory’s Girl, The Firm, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and All About Eve) while others were not (like Bubba Ho Tep and The Grapes of Wrath – the latter of which was a blind choice my be and one I’ll regret for the rest of my life. Boring doesn’t even begin to describe it).
It was during this period that I discovered just how bad I thought my friend Paul’s taste in movies was. He brought along the likes of The Fountain and Videodrome, which I either sat, open-mouthed at how awful they were or just fell asleep through boredom.
It’s still a recurring joke now that I like to bring up at almost every opportunity. If I see a film and think it’s rubbish, I’ll say “I bet Paul liked that” and the thing is, he usually does!
Anyway, last night I watched Under the Skin, and upon hearing I was watching it, I got a message from Paul to say “Under the Skin was one of the best films of the year so far!”
“Oh bollocks”, I thought.
Under the Skin Review: What’s It About?
A mysterious woman drives around Scotland, seducing and feeding upon random blokes.
Under the Skin Review: Who’s In It?
Scarlett Johansson. There are others of course, but she’s really the only one needing mentioned here.
Under the Skin Review: How Highly Is It Rated?
Well the reviews are mixed. If you go to imdb, you’ll see it only gets 6.4 from just under 32,000 votes. The thing is, I don’t think that’s from people giving it a 6 or 7; I think it’s from people either giving it 10 or 1.
From what I can gather reading the reviews, people either think it’s a masterpiece or a lot of boring old toss.
My mate Paul thinks it’s a masterpiece, my brother – who suggested we watch it as he loves the book it’s based on – thought it was extremely boring.
What category do I fall into?
Under the Skin Review: My Thoughts
As a rule, I don’t like films that try to be arty. 2001: A Space Odyssey ranks as one of my least favourite films of all time. For me, the basis of a good movie is a strong plot; I watch these things for the story and the dialogue.
Under the Skin doesn’t seem to have anything resembling that; at least not in the traditional sense.
At first, I thought “What’s going on here”, as long arty direction shots were mixed in with seemingly random set piece like Johansson’s character driving around Glasgow looking for the M8 and then suddenly sitting on a beach near Arbroath watching a Czech surfer try to help a man save his drowning wife from the sea.
It didn’t make sense.
Neither did the weird ritual – I assume – murder of the blokes she picked up on her travels in some sort of black pool of fluid.
And yet…and yet I was strangely captivated by it.
As much as it didn’t make sense in a traditional way, it also kinda did. The set piece at the beach served to show that (and I’ll put this bit in white text in case it spoils it for you) as an alien she had no traditional human emotions like empathy, especially as she simply ignores the screaming toddler left alone after its parents drowned, and this was hammered through more with her nonplussed reaction to the deformed guy in the van.
The director deserves a lot of the credit for that.
In a movie without any significant dialogue or plot, it still manages to keep my attention, because it’s the imagery that tells the story. There’s also a greater sense of reality to it, with hidden cameras in the van allowing Scarlett Johansson to ask genuine members of the public for directions. That lead to the sort of earthy Glaswegian comments like “Yous are looking for the M8? It’s down past Asda by-ra-way” that no script writer would have the balls to write. As a Scot, I found it hilarious, but I imagine people from a different country might struggle to understand what they are saying. Certainly, I don’t think I’d have found it quite so amusing if those passers-by were Londoners.
If I was to criticise the direction for anything though, it would be that although I found it amusing seeing a guy wearing a Hibs shirt being murdered, I didn’t want to see his erect penis; that put me right off my dinner that did. Oooft.
Scarlett Johansson deserves a lot of credit for making her character quite believable to. For an actress who – let’s be fair about it – has never really set the heather alight with her performances, I thought she was very good.
The only thing from an overall point of view that I did find a bit lacking was the stuff with the motorcyclist guy. It didn’t really feel all that necessary to the story, such that it was.
Under the Skin Review: Summing Up
If you’d told me what this was about before I watched it, the chances are I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it.
But I’m actually glad I did.
Though not my type of thing by design, Under The Skin – in large parts thanks to Jonathan Glazer’s vision, but also down to Scarlett Johansson’s performance – turned out to be a pretty decent example of doing something different with film.
Against all the odds, I enjoyed it.
And most worryingly of all, I actually think I agree with my friend, Paul. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was still worthy of praise.
The world will never be the same again.
Hey, did you know I’ve published a book? Check out my thoughts on Doctor Who in Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Book One: The Classic Era, available at Amazon