Under the Skin is not a film you can just rush out with an opinion of necessarily. It is one to contemplate and much like Scarlett Johansson’s character, one you have to discover the more you dive into it.
It’s not entirely easy to break down the plot of the film (and should be left out for possible viewers) because part of the experience comes from deciding what is happening for yourself but Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien seductress who goes after men in Scotland (sorry that’s about it).
What Under the Skin does do is gives us a glimpse into the idea of the male gaze. Johansson is a perfect fit for the role (she has been named as one of the most beautiful women alive in multiple magazines) because she epitomizes that “perfect woman” that men chase after. As she begins to travel around Scotland, she uses her sexuality to bring in ignorant men looking for a good time without looking at what is happening around them.
This process becomes methodical throughout the first hour of the film as Johansson comes up to man after man, bringing them in with her sly smile and small talk, something familiar and comforting. But where they go afterwards is nowhere near comfortable as a black nothingness engulfs them as they peer into the eyes and stripped body of Johansson.
There is a lot to be said about the early men who follow Johansson back to her “house” without getting any other information outside of an image of what they think she’ll look like naked. One thing that Glazer does well, and subtly, is the amount of clothes Johansson takes off for each man. The first man doesn’t even get to see her facing him with anything off before he hits the black abyss; the second sees her in her underwear as he is engulfed while the third sees everything.
This happens before she becomes fully enamored with humans.
Glazer is able to present a beautifully shot filmed filled with multiple interesting ideas but where he goes off track is in fortifying the concepts he outlines. He leaves so much for interpretation that it feels like he has thrown out all logic but has no reason why. The logic is gone and he seems like he doesn’t care.
These aiiens are here on Earth but why are they harvesting humans? If they are so advanced to get here, why do they seem to be studying humans? Shouldn’t they already know that? Are there more aliens entering the skin? Who are the men on the motorcycles? How can they track down a man but not Johansson?
The film presents too many questions left unanswered and Glazer seems content with that. This is a film built on contemplation and that’s fine but that doesn’t mean there can’t be any narrative structure along with it.
Under the Skin is truly a cinematic experience but one that leaves you with questions as to how you got the ending and why the characters chose to do what they did. But it does pose a few interesting concepts, a terrifying score and a beautifully shot product that while leaving you desperate for more, doesn’t leave you completely disappointed.