Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien on Earth, disguised to look just like everybody else. She travels around Scotland, picking up male hitchhikers and taking them back to her cabin. As she leads the men into her home, under the guise that they’re there for a sexual encounter, they find themselves sinking into the pitch black floor, trapped there to be processed into piles of meat. Initially indifferent to those around her, an encounter with one man leaves her feeling something for humanity, and she escapes into the woods, only to find that she’s turned from predator, into prey.
After a decade in development, director Jonathan Glazer finally brings Under The Skin to the big screen. Depending on your point of view, the results can be mixed. Based on a novel of the same name by Michel Faber, those who have read the book will find the undefined story easy to accept, but will certainly miss many aspects that make the novel so successful. The deep tale that unfolds within the novel, introducing an alien race, the reasons why they’re capturing men, and the class struggle of that alien race, are all absent in the film.
What appears here is a mostly visual treat, and it’s a spectacular one. This is the kind of sci-fi film that will leave casual moviegoers scratching their heads. The almost non-existent story must be created from what we see, asking viewers to fill in many of the blanks, which can be a chore for even the most dedicated cinephile. On its own, it’s a beautiful film, filled with visually stunning moments, and an equal stunning performance from Johansson, whose innocent curiosity at those around her is both touching, and chilling. If you’ve read the novel first, it allows you to add the storyline as well, making this a more complete viewing experience.
Although limited in their moments, when the special effects hit the screen, they do it in a big way. As Johansson walks across a deep black floor, her victims sink into it, as if walking into water. Entranced by the alien, they show no concern for their safety, and the result is dazzling. It’s complimented perfectly by the score, which could send chills up your spine on its own. When we’re finally treated to Johansson’s full alien look, it’s breathtaking, as well as shocking, making the film a truly visual masterpiece.