Under the Skin
Beware the stunning brunette in the white van. Unlike most visitors to Glasgow, she’s not there for football, or a good time. If you accept that ride she’s offering, well, mate, you’re in trouble. In Under the Skin director Jonathan Glazer gives us a deeply creepy film that is science-fiction with a healthy dose of stranger-in-a-strange land weirdness. And that stranger is Scarlett Johansson.
The pace of Under the Skin is deliberately slow. You’ll spend quite some time in that van with an English-accented Johansson, who is picking up randos on the mean streets of Glasgow. There’s a lot of windshield time, just Scarlett and the grey rain.
Scarlett Johansson undercover on the streets of Scotland
Based on Michel Faber’s 2000 novel, Glazer starts off with Johansson’s first night on “the job”, and with the help of a silent, motorcycle-riding minder, she gets behind the wheel and prowls about town. We know these street encounters won’t end well. I won’t spoil what happens to her victims, but it’s dark and cinematic and nothing you’ve seen before.
There’s an extra tension knowing that the film crew shot most of this with hidden cameras inside the van capturing actual civilians, men who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, who approached the van to give directions to one of the most famous actresses in the world, hiding behind a wig and a really good London accent (They were soon informed, and signed releases).
Under the Skin: Not your normal Sci-fi
We don’t hear her accent too much, though. When she’s not turning on the charm, Johansson’s character is mostly silent, her eyes wide, taking it all in, learning what it feels like to pretend to be a human. As slow and as quiet as Under the Skin is, you’ll be captivated by Johansson’s wonder at this new world. Her character changes as she accumulates more and more of these encounters. The alien doesn’t become human, but traces of empathy emerge. She starts to seem a lonely and lost traveller, albeit one that is programmed to kill.
Under the Skin might be a love it or hate it film, but get in the van and give it a try.
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A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.