Monday, 17 March 2014

Under The Skin

As an image, the sight of Scarlett Johansson prowling the streets of Glasgow at the wheel of a Ford Transit isn't just incongruous, it's downright weird. But within the singular netherworld of Jonathan Glazer's filmed nightmare, it's just about the least strange thing you'll witness for its entire duration. To attempt to describe any of the freakier visual episodes Glazer has spawned for Under The Skin would be futile, but if you've ever woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because of some unbidden, indefinable terror, you'll have a vague idea of what to expect.

That's not to say that Under The Skin is unwatchably terrifying; in fact the reputation it's already attracted as fuel for a lifetime of mental trauma may well have been overstated. But it is undeniably fascinating, chin-strokingly thought-provoking and wilfully, intrinsically alien. As some kind of un-person, harvesting unwitting souls for a disturbing purpose, Johansson is remarkable in a role from which you genuinely have no idea what to expect next - and if you think you do, you'll be wrong. She's front (and full-frontal) and centre in a tale which requires her to barely hint at a universe of emotions without any exposition, and your slender grasp on proceedings is entirely at her mercy.

Boosting the bonkers is Mica Levi's deeply unsettling score, with a three-note motif for Johansson's subcutaneous succubus which rivals any superhero theme of recent times for character identification. If you never heard it again for another ten years, the moment you did you'd be transported right back to an unremarkable Scottish cottage with an unconventional floor and the darkest secrets in the basement.

As you'd expect of a film this obscure, interpretations of Under The Skin's intent are entirely down to you. Its potential themes are boundless but universal, and while it isn't about to hold your hand and guide you through its haunted forest of ideas, it would be a shame not to take anything away from it. It's not perfect, but it's wholly original, and these days that's rarer than a Hollywood starlet cruising Sauchiehall Street in a white van.

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