… and how she was punished for it.
It’s been out a while, but I only just got around to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, the enigmatic, glacial barely-horror film in which an alien (Scarlett Johansson) drives around in a white Transit van and preys upon lone men in Scotland. I’ve not read the novel by Michel Faber, upon which the film was based, so this discussion is purely about the latter. There’ll be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film and you’re one of those big babies there’s plenty of other things to read on this blog.
You know some bad news is coming, because I’ll start with the good. The film captures the bleak beauty and grey light of Scotland perfectly. It looks like the most grimly lush Radiohead video ever, if Radiohead singles were ever nearly two hours long. The score by Mica Levi puts many a mainstream horror soundtrack to shame with its angular, insectoid weirdness. Over the past year or so I’d say that only Cristabal Tapia De Veer’s peculiar score for Channel 4’s Utopia was better, more inventive or more crucial to the production’s atmosphere. Johansson seems to pick her acting roles at random out of a hat, and in the wrong film she can be stiff as a board and half as interesting. Given the chance, though, she can do great work. Making one of Sofia Coppola’s dreary chorus line of autobiographical Poor Little Rich Girl non-characters sympathetic (Lost in Translation) is quite an achievement, even when Bill Murray brings his full chemistry set. In Her, Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix trowel on the protagonist’s lonely, nerdy life as a sadsack spod so thickly that we don’t doubt he’d take up all manner of hikikomori activities. It’s Johansson, however, whose voice performance really sells the concept of an incorporeal artificial intelligence product that loves and is lovable while at the same time never really anybody’s at all.
Conversely in Under the Skin, Johansson barely speaks through the whole film, but watch the extraordinary and chilling way her amoral, calculating character performs feminine charm and accommodation then a split second later looks like a dead cod lying on a bed of ice at the fishmonger’s. The only character comparison that immediately comes to mind is Daryl Hannah as Pris and Joanna Cassidy as Zhora in Blade Runner, inhuman humans who know exactly which male buttons to press but would snuff any man, woman or child without blinking. Hannah and Cassidy never got as much to do in Blade Runner as Johansson does here. Continue Reading