UNDER THE SKIN (2005)
SLASH’S FUCKED UP FRIDAY
Continuing with our WOMEN IN HORROR month, it is time to turn to the lithesome Scarlett Johansson, who has shown us that she can be a woman who can kick ass in movies, films like IRON MAN 2, THE AVENGERS, THE AVENGERS 2, CAPTAIN AMERICA 2, & LUCY. She is one of those actresses who has grown up in the movies, & we have watched her turn into a hot box, big-titted seductress; much like our fathers did with Elizabeth Taylor. But to our chagrin, though many of her roles over the years were sexy bitches, she has been very stingy with sharing her charms with us; even in DON JON, where everyone got naked, & sex was the through-line, she kept most of her clothes on.
So one of the primary motivations for seeing UNDER THE SKIN was the promise of seeing her very naked, several times, several great tit-shots & full frontal nudity just as a bonus (she is not a natural blonde, guys, if you ever wondered). Scarlett did all of her own nude scenes without using a body double; hurrah for her, giving her all for Art, it seems.
But imagine my surprise when what is delivered by the film is a mind-fuck bizarre Indie that violates all the parameters of other Science Fiction movies, creating both something deadly dull & absolutely fascinating. The movie is based on a novel by Michael Faber, & in it his alien protagonist has a name, & each episode, or encounter with other characters provided the reader with more exposition; this is not so with the film, where basically we are not told or shown shit–& find ourselves fighting the urge to walk out, or click this bitch off out of frustration, boredom, & ignorance. I submit, however, if you stick it out to the last frame, the experience pays off, & the uniqueness of the non-narrative, & the strangeness of the movie stick with you for days.
The film was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who started out directing TV commercials & Music videos. The film took over ten years to get filmed. Novelist Alexander Stuart wrote the first three drafts of the screenplay. Glazer wrote some of the finished script, co-writing with Walter Campbell, a pal of his from the TV commercial days.
Glazer has directed 7 films since 1998, including SEXY BEAST (2000), & BIRTH (2005).
The musical score was done by Mica Levi, who is a professional musician, & composer. The was her only score for a feature film.
She has a band called THE SHAPES, who are famous for using household items in their songs, like vacuum cleaners, decks of cards, blenders & mixers, with thumping on plastic bowls.
The cinematography was done by Daniel Landin, who has lensed 25 films since 1993, & who met Glazer when he started out, shooting TV commercials & Music Videos; working with David Bowie, Bjork, Sneaker Pimps, & Smashing Pumpkins. Some of his films include SIXTY-SIX (2006), 44 INCH CHEST (2007), & THE UNINVITED (2009).
The film was not a big Box Office winner; quite the contrary; many of the critics loved it, but audiences did not flock to see it. Possibly the word-of-mouth killed it, because beyond the thrill of seeing all of Scarlett Johansson, the film requires intellect, patience, & knowledge about movies to fully get with the program. It ran 108 minutes, but seemed longer. It was reported that the it had a 13 million dollar budget, & its domestic gross was something like 2.6 million. (I just read where this week, Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER has already earned 300 million bucks). Critically, it was named one of the Best Films of 2014 by over 100 publications. It was filmed on location in Glasgow, Scotland.
THE BABE GALLERY
There is only one babe in this movie,
Scarlett Johansson, who did a whole series
of marvelous nude scenes.
OK, let’s talk about the movie that has no easy to follow plot, the Movie that shall remain almost plotless.
It opens on a halcyon scene of a deceased young woman’s body lying in a ditch. A van pulls up, & a man picks up the body and stuffs it into the back of a van. We follow the van to a sturdy two-story house in the outskirts of Glasgow.
The man carries the dead woman inside, & plops her on the floor. A very naked woman comes out of the shadows (there are very few lights on inside) & she examines the dead woman carefully as she strips off the corpse’s clothes.
Cut to the Female wearing the dead woman’s clothes, driving the van around the seedier neighborhoods of Glasgow, Scotland. She flirts with, & picks up a young man; drives him back to her “House”.
As soon as they get into the house, the Female begins stripping down to her black bra & panties, walking into a dark large room,
just out of reach of the randy young man; who also begins to strip off his clothes (several of the male victims become totally nude, & we get way too many full cock frontal nudity shots, testicle shots, & bung hole angles).
The young man just cannot catch up to the Female, & soon he seems euphoric, seemingly unaware that he is beginning to sink into a gelatinous black liquid. The Female stands by in her underwear, emotionless, watching the man sink silently into the tar-black floor, going down fast like alien quick sand.
After the man sinks completely below the floor, into the black jello body, he is still conscious, does not seem to drown. After a moment, She tires of watching, & gets dressed, to go out & repeat her seductive entrapment.
We are a reluctant ride-along as the Female picks up several more young men, & feeds them to the fucking insatiable floor. At one point we see two of them, floating with their pricks dangling, as their bodies seem to evaporate, or get ingested, leaving only their skin to dance a liquid undulating ballet of death.
The scenario is identical each time. She drives around for what seems eternity, spies a likely lusty loser, seduces him, drives back to the House, gets the guy insides, strips down to her black underwear, & lures them into the feeding room.
Cut to a family swimming in the waves of a lagoon at a cold looking beach on the coast. The Female is walking alone along the sand, looking for fresh meat. She approaches a young man who is taking care of an infant, while his wife is out in the surf with another older child. She strikes up a non-conversation, but the seduction is cut short by the screaming for help from the wife. The husband immediately leaps into the water & swims out to his wife.
The Female stands arrogantly ignorant of the dynamics of the situation. The infant begins to cry pitifully. The Female does not notice it. She stand there for a very long six minutes. Soon the cries of the family stop. The husband’s body washes up near the beach. The Female wades in, & drags the man’s body up on the beach.
He is still alive. She picks up a rock, & crushes his skull with it; then drags him for about an hour up to the van, stuffs him in the back, & drives off to feed the fucking floor. The infant is left crying on the beach; no one else is around.
Cut to her picking up what looks like a circus freak, a young man with Elephant Man facial deformities, neurofibromatosis. Now this is different, we say to ourselves; what kind of kinky shit will this alien bitch get into now? She, of course, can barely discriminate the difference in each young man, & does not seem to be able to tell that this guy is fucking way different than the others; this time she gets completely naked, & so does he, but this time she does not let the young man completely sink into the tar alien goo. She seems to rescue him, & sends him out of the house naked.
The Female is somehow confused, out-of-sorts. It is as if being around humans, pretending to be human, has fucked with her alien mind. She walks out of the House coatless, heading a different direction from the stumbling wandering naked freak. About that time, the companion alien pulls up in a car, stuffs the nude freak into it, & drives off searching for the Female.
Cut to the Female sitting in a diner with a piece of cake in front of her; how the fuck she paid for the pastry was not addressed; maybe she took money from her victims–just another puzzling piece of the celluloid conundrum. The incongruity of the placement of this scene, made me smile–“Let the bitch eat cake,” I thought. She observes humans eating their food, so she attempts to eat the cake, but it chokes her, so she spits it out. No one notices.
Cut to the Female wandering down a rural lane, stopping at a crossroads, where there is another store, & a bus stop. A middle-aged man watches her. She shivers, he watches, for about 12 minutes. Then he goes over, introduces himself, asks her if she needs some help.
Cut to the man taking the Female home to his apartment. He cooks dinner for her, but she just stares at the food. How does she get sustenance, I wondered. Maybe she goes Home, pulls out an alien strange metal silver straw & sucks up a meal from the black gelatin floor enriched from the many cocks it has dissolved.
She hasn’t really said jack shit the whole time. He probably figures she is traumatized by something; & perhaps he is correct. Later that night she stands naked in front of a mirror, & examines her “alien” body in the glass.
The next day he takes her to a ruined castle, they wander around; she doesn’t talk. He kisses her, she allows it. It almost resonates as a lame Hallmark moment. He takes her back to the apartment. He pulls off her pants & panties, shucks his britches, & climbs aboard.
She has no idea what is going on, so She pushes him off, staring blankly at him while she fingers the vagina that he was working so hard to stick his dick into; or at least a hole where the cunt should be. Disgusted at her rebuke, the man gets up & leaves.
Cut to the Female, wearing a green rain slicker, wandering in the forest; which makes as much sense as anything else in the weirdness of this movie.
She wanders around for a long 8 minutes until she meets a logger in a yellow slicker.
They make small talk, & she asks if there is a shelter in the woods that she could stay in for the night. He tells her about a logger’s cabin a mile, or so, up the trail. They part, & she hikes to the cabin.
Cut to the glorified work shed, where she finds a canvas bed, takes shelter, & goes to sleep (so I guess fucking aliens have to get their REM too). Suddenly in the morning she is awakened by the balding overweight lusty logger, who begins to molest her.
She fights him off, & runs off into the dark forest with him in pursuit. He catches her, pins her to the ground, taking off her coat & blouse. She squirms around until her back is to him. He gets rough with her, & suddenly the skin of her whole back splits open. Then the skin on her shoulders splits open, & we see jet black flesh under it.
The logger loses his trouser log, gets up, seems pretty freaked out & runs off. We watch as a jet black bald alien peels off the damaged skin of the human it borrowed from. It is examining the head, staring into the dead eyes of Ms. Johansson,
when the logger returned with a five gallon gas can, & he soaks the black bitch down with petroleum,then lights her on fire.
Roll the end credits as we try & figure this shit out.
ROTTEN TOMATOES rated it at 84% Critics Approval with a 54% Audience Approval; the converse of how most films break down.
Michael Philips of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE wrote: “Minds will be blown to the four winds, but fair warning, many American ticket buyers may find themselves exasperated and/or exiting early.
Mal Vincent of the VIRGINIAN-PILOT wrote: “There is a relentless quality about it that keeps you going. It is the kind of “Art” film that reminds one of Polanski’s REPULSION.”
Michael Smith of the TULSA WORLD wrote: “We do learn a little about ourselves by the conclusion, but when it came to holding my attention for the duration of a feature-length film, I found the experience far too alien.”
Sean Means of the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE wrote: “There’s an eerie brilliance & haunting beauty to this film; writer/director Jonathan Glazer’s beyond-strange exploration of what it means to be human–as seen from an alien perspective.”
Daniel Barnes of the SACRAMENTO NEWS & REVIEW wrote: “Nearly wordless & devoid of comforting context, & driven by composer Mica Levi’s haunting & discordant score, UNDER THE SKIN will drill deep & lay eggs in your brain.”
Todd McCarthy of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote: “The film provides too little for even relatively adventurous specialized audiences to latch onto.”
I have to say that for 75% of this movie, I was frustrated. I must have said aloud about 30 times WTF is this damn thing about, what the hell is going on? We do not know the alien seductress’ name. In the credits she is just referred to as the female. In some of the write ups she is called Laura, though I can’t guess why; the name is never used in the film. (Maybe that is her name in the novel). The first line of dialogue did not happen until 13 minutes into the film.
So, even after She tempts the first man to her lair, & we watch her strip & lure him out on the succubus flooring, & we sort of figure out She must be some kind of alien bitch, there is no real clue why she is doing this. Is the whole floor some kind of shape-shifting amoeba, some kind of hungry entity, or is the whole house a shape-shifted version of the space ship she must have arrived in.
What’s up with the sidekick, the motorcycle man, who picks up the dead bodies? (He was played by professional motor cycle racer, Jeremy McWilliams). Are the dead ones less nourishing than the live ones? Are the human bodies being transformed into a fuel source, or are they just the sustenance de jour? Was he another alien crew member, wearing a human body suit? He seemed like a bad ass. Wonder what he did when he found out that the Alien was killed?
It was audacious, almost interesting, that much of the film was improvised. It must have made writing the script a hell of a lot simpler. So that means that the characters were not actors. Glazer had hidden cameras in the van, & Johansson really picked all those men up. They did not find out that the incident was being filmed until they got into the vehicle (obviously, they had to be hip to the movie shit before their nude scenes in the hungry house).
Before Scarlett Johansson was given the role, Eva Green, Olivia Wilde, January Jones, & Abbie Cornish had all auditioned for it. The only man who was told in advance what was going on was Adam Pearson, who actually has neurofibromatosis. Glazer contacted their support group, CHANGING FACES, to find the one he liked. Pearson gave some valuable insights to the crew about how Scarlett would/could seduce a man like him.
Even though MR. SKIN (that I go to repeatedly for celebrity skin shots) placed Scarlett Johansson’s nude scenes from this movie on their Top 150 Greatest Celebrity Nude Scenes of All Time list, I have to go on record stating that the nudity was not sexy, arousing, or sensual in any sense of the word. It was akin to watching the Nazis making Jewish women get naked before marching them to the gas chamber, or watching her get naked & take a shit (though, hey, I’m aware that for some fucking pervs out there, nudity & defecation are a turn on).
Perhaps this film was not “groundbreaking”; financially it was certainly a flop mantled in Critic’s raves. It’s theme was similar to the main plot points in the SPECIES series (I think there were four of them), & some of the puzzlement of the alien reminded me of moments in John Carpenter’s STARMAN (1984).
But once a viewer gets their mind right about this movie, can accept the onerous vacuum of non-explication, & sticks with it to the end, there is a pay-off, a sense of you having experienced something truly macabre, out-of-this world. The cinematography was very good, kind of smoothing out the cinema verite trappings. The musical score was innovative, creative, also haunting.
I am not usually a proponent of films that are “different” just for the fuck of it, which encompasses 90% of the films of the much overrated director Lars Von Trier; his movies make me livid, make me want to choke down strangers, kick dogs, use baseball bats on Cadillac Escalades.
If I had to rate the first hour of this movie, my rating would be 3.0 stars, & if I were to rate the last 45 minutes of the film, my rating would be 9 stars. IMDb rated it at 6.3 stars. After the shock of the first viewing, & having the movie stick to my cortex like celluloid apple butter, during the second viewing I began to feel better about it. I would recommend that the basic followers of HH will need to fortify themselves with some prime alcohol for the first viewing. Finding the perfect balance in my mind’s eye, I can step right up there & rate it at a strong 7 stars out of the HH 10 star ratings system.
Pick up the movie here: Under the Skin