“Under the Skin”

“Under the Skin”
4.5 stars
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay

Typically, Redbox delivers mainstream successes or straight-to-video hilarity. Though this millennium’s answer to Blockbuster can be found on nearly every corner, its compact size hinders it from featuring much variety.

The 2013 British-American film “Under the Skin,” based on the novel of the same name released in 2000, offers a fresh mode of cinema for anyone looking to step outside the (Red)box. The slow, quiet film explores a reversal of Jack-the-Ripper lore. The voluptuous Scarlett Johansson portrays an alien (hidden by a human exterior) who lures men back to her apartment, which is a basically a spaceless, black void. Once there, she leads them into a dark pool of liquid, wherein their innards eventually are absorbed.

Scarlett Johansson entrances her audience as much as she does her male prey in 'Under the Skin,' directed by Jonathan Glazer. Courtesy photo

Scarlett Johansson entrances her audience as much as she does her male prey in ‘Under the Skin,’ directed by Jonathan Glazer. Courtesy photo

“Under the Skin” may sound like a loud, in-your-face foray into cinema; however, it boasts a restraint typically found in European renderings. Though a soundscape overlays the entire film, it never overwhelms. Its subject matter sounds gory and violent, but a soft color palette and understated action make the film almost painting-like.

In terms of restraint, the film divulges information in a way that engages the viewer. The film opens with largely dialogue-devoid scenes: We see Johansson taking the clothes of a woman in a white limitless space, and we see her driving around seemingly aimlessly—had I not read the synopsis before viewing, I would’ve been completely in the dark (liquid void) as to what was happening.

Despite a bit of frustration, this lack of information serves the film well. Rather than opening with Johansson receiving an assignment to collect the insides of human males, the viewer becomes immersed in the plot. The unsettling score lets viewers in on the fact her game is sinister, but the film builds tension by obscuring her actions. With each man she encounters, the viewer gets a little further into her process. By relaying information like this, the audience must hone their eyes and ears to sonic and visual cues. The eye catches the sleek cinematography and dreamy use of color—”Under the Skin” places the audience in the same trance with which Johansson captures her prey.

As well, there are some nice touches in terms of subtle cues that something is changing within Johansson. At one point, she seems to glide along the sidewalk of a busy street. The cinematography evokes an otherworldly trance. Eventually, she trips and falls. The soundscape chimes in with uneasiness, while Johansson stays on the ground uncertain of what to do—she’s in a very humanizing situation, which she’s never been in before.  The camera is close on her face, and the muffled sounds of concerned passersby can be heard. This moment shines as one of the first instances the audience is let in on her exploration of emotion.

The plot thickens about an hour in, when Johansson encounters a disfigured sexual novice. She lures him to her apartment, but allows him to escape. Unfortunately, her motorcycle-riding “boss” nabs the man and pursues Johansson, who has begun exploring her humanity. “Under the Skin” comes to a head when Johansson accepts an invitation back with someone. Rather than the black, endless void in her apartment, the man’s apartment has clutter and noise. As the climax takes hold, the film comes full circle and boasts some quality comparisons between metropolitan and natural surroundings. They aid in the contrast of mechanical, primal instincts and humanity and depth. The film’s ultimate conclusion haunts.

The only issue with “Under the Skin” is its propensity toward pretension. At times, lingering shots come ad nauseam and serve little purpose. As well, the DVD’s main menu features eye-roll worthy footage of Johansson applying lipstick, and the chapter selection is just a series of tiny, white numbers. Though a small issue to nitpick, a film with so much substance doesn’t need to rely on such clichéd attempts of looking “artsy.”

“Under the Skin” proves a worthy Redbox selection. Great cinematography, a stellar score and an engrossing story surely will sate the adventurous renter’s appetite.

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