Under the Skin (2013) Poster

(I) (2013)

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Gets under the skin
TheLittleSongbird3 September 2017
Despite being a box office failure, 'Under the Skin' was a critical success with a lot of critics citing it as "an unforgettable experience" and one of the best films of the year. Audience reaction, as one can see here, has been much more divisive.

One can see why. 'Under the Skin' is the sort of film that will captivate some and alienate others. Being somebody who does like science fiction (and often the more polarising, different and critically acclaimed ones), who really enjoyed the more linear satirical book and was intrigued by the concept, there was the hope that it would be as good as the critics said (being one of the few on IMDb who doesn't resort to immature critic bashing and can see more often than not where they're coming from). Did prepare myself, judging by the divisive audience reaction and how vitriolic some of the negative reactions have been, for disappointment or finding it not as good as made out while still acknowledging its strengths.

Seeing 'Under the Skin', much of it was very impressive. Can totally see why people disliked it, do share a few of the complaints myself, but can see even more why critics and many others loved it. Will not resort to the oh so common, overused and abused stereotypical phrases always spouted on people's tastes on both sides, wanting to be a fair and perceptive reviewer and not someone who thinks only their opinion is right and nobody else's is (seen a lot around here).

'Under the Skin' to me wasn't perfect. Maybe it would have worked better as a short film. Can see why the slow pacing was adopted, for atmosphere and immersing into the world reasons, but there are parts that are a bit too drawn-out and meandering which doesn't always make the film as attention-grabbing as it could have been. The story structurally is a very slight one and not a conventional narrative, this is not always a problem in film and it cannot be denied that in terms of creating a mood and atmosphere that this is a triumph, sometimes it did feel too thin and while the basic concept is clear cohesion is not always a strength. Anybody feeling that there are unanswered questions here will find that the book, which has much more depth and clarity, provides the answers.

However, 'Under the Skin' does look amazing with some startlingly original imagery that really haunts the mind. The cinematography and eerie lighting, as well as the beautiful but austere Scottish landscapes, help make it one of the visually best-looking films that year. A big star is Mica Levi's electronic score that relies on drums and strings, this is one nerve-shredding music score with the freakiest use of strings for any film seen in recent memory.

The film is a triumph of mood and atmosphere. There is a real sense of queasy horror, eerie chills and an otherworldliness. Standout scenes here are the jaw-dropping cosmic sequence, reminding one of '2001: A Space Odyssey', the nightmarish and tension-filled beach scene and the poetic, sensual but pretty creepy seduction. Jonathan Glazer does a fine job directing, particularly in immersing the viewer into this world. The script is minimal but hardly weak.

Scarlett Johansson is mesmerising here in one of her best performances, she's rarely been more sensual and she shows a mastery of conveying so much while saying little, very hard to do and under-appreciated by many. Adam Pearson also gives a disturbing but poignant performance. Other than them, the rest of the acting is competent but not standout-worthy or memorable while never being disastrous or bad.

In conclusion, not mind-blowingly incredible and understandably divisive but one of those experiences that is hard not to forget. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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An intriguing film that probably requires a second viewing
Tweekums26 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
As this film opens a motorcyclist drives along a remote Scottish road and retrieves the body of a woman from a field and takes in to a white van. We then see her in a pure white space where a naked woman proceeds to undress her then put on her clothes. She then drives the van to Glasgow and starts asking men for directions, as she does so see asks if they are local and have friends or family… when one doesn't she offers him a lift. She then lures him back to a dilapidated house where, in what can best be described as a black space, they start to undress. He walks towards her but gradually sinks into an oily liquid without noticing. She continues this emotionless behaviour until she finds a disfigured man; for some reason he is spared. She then heads to the highlands where she abandons the van and meets a man on a bus. While they spend the night together the motorcyclist, who has 'dealt with' the man she spared, is driving north towards her location.

Having just watched this film for the first time I'm unsure just how to feel; I expect I'll need to watch it again to be sure. That may sound like a bad thing but I think in this case it is a sign of how intriguing I found it. The story was told in a very detached way we are not told why this woman is doing what she does or why nor are we told what her connection to the mysterious and somewhat sinister motorcyclist is. The dialogue is sparse and what there is doesn't really tell us much about the characters. The only real exception was when she picked up the disfigured man; this scene was tender and showed that the protagonist was developing emotions… in stark contrast to an earlier scene where she left a baby on a remote beach after seeing its parents drown and clobbering a would be rescuer with a rock. Scarlett Johansson was great in the leading role making is believe that her character was simultaneously a dangerous predator but could also be as vulnerable as any ordinary woman. The rest of the cast, mostly non-actors, are also impressive in a way that adds to the feeling that they are real people. The cinematography adds to the strange feel of the film; it gives a sense of detachment as well as a sense of danger. There is a fair amount of nudity but it is all fairly matter of fact rather than overly leery or erotic. Overall I'd recommend this but admit it certainly won't be for everybody.
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Bizarrely Mesmerizing
3xHCCH23 July 2014
From the beginning shot of this film depicting lights and eclipses, we will already see that this will not be just another run-of-the-mill motion picture. When we see a nude Scarlett Johansson for the first time in that pristine white room, we definitely know we are in for a different sort of ride.

A woman drives around Scotland. She strikes up conversations with various men she picks up along the way. She will seduce them into coming with her and they follow her into her black void of a house. However, as this woman encounters more men, she will also realize and discover new things about herself.

Despite the presence of a big name star Scarlett Johansson, this is not a mainstream film. The techniques are unmistakably art-house, with long stretches of silence, of Johansson just driving around, of random people just going about their daily routines. It is said that to be realistic, the film makers shot Johansson picking up real men off the street (not actors) and interviewed them without a script as they were driving around. The thick Scottish accents may be unintelligible.

Many audiences may just dismiss this as a fruitless waste of 100 minutes, since on paper, the plot seems to be simple enough for a single "X-Files" episode. However, serious cinephiles will be enraptured by the film's bizarre cinematographic beauty, deeper symbolic meaning and recall films by hallowed directors like Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch.

There are carefully orchestrated shots of seduction, very effective (of course with Johansson in various stages of undress) and mysterious (with that pitch black shiny room and that eerie piercing music by Mica Levi). There was a scene with a couple, their baby and their dog on an isolated windswept beach which will disturb you. There was a scene involving a man with a disfigured face which will haunt you.

"Under the Skin" is a unique artistic movie experience which will polarize audiences. Director Jonathan Glazer has created a bleak masterpiece which will visually mesmerize and thematically baffle his viewers. So, are you seduced to take up this challenge? 7/10.
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Feeling for the alien
jon141012 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
In the film Under the Skin there is no story line or development of character(as in the book), the almost non-existent story must be created from what we see. Johansson plays a blank,humanoid void of personality, filling in (like us) the blanks of what she knows with what she sees. The stroke of genius was dropping an A-list star into the streets of Glasgow and her mixing with non actors using a Kiarostami-type -10 approach to filming in and from the white van, with all the sounds of the street filtering through. I wonder how much this film traded on Scarlet Johansson's celebrity glamour rather than her acting skills as she seems like a passive observer, almost mute, apart from a few encounters with stranger pick-ups on the streets, where the recognisable husky voice and seductive tone reels another unsuspecting victim into her lair. There are some brilliant,stunning visual effects, making the film realise the the alien presence with the eye image from the spherical globe, to the birth of her human identity in the all-white space, where she dons the victim's clothes and identity. The heroine knows how to drive a car and turn a sentence, and the use of red lip-stick as she kerb crawls.

The chipper lad, the cocksure charmer, the deformed lonely hearts are all lured in by this femme fa tale, siren of film noir luring them( friendless) into the cavern of blackness of her squat. The victims wade into a black intergalactic gloo as she walks on enticingly above. A mystery biker speeding the Scottish highways seems to aid and abet her, or monitor and supervise her. Is he her controller or is he her drone? All is accompanied by Mica Levi's eerie ominous drums and strings soundtrack. We don't know who she is, she doesn't even have a name. She has a mission, some of which she may not know herself. She even kills one victim with a rock when he's washed up on a beach trying to save two people in the sea. I'm not sure how much we are supposed to project onto her opaque performance glimmerings of consciousness, e. G. when she picks up a man at night suffering from facial disfigurement, whose loneliness and longing appear to affect her and she lets him live, then after she takes off for the Scottish highlands, her growing human awareness and vulnerability allows her to experience briefly a relationship and sex which shocks her. She is seen to explore her naked body, to wonder about its effects in a mirror. The ending is both matter-of-fact and tragic.

Glazer made it clear on this project of 9 years, he didn't want to make the novel, but make a film on what it means to feel human. The clever ploy is using the alien gaze to show us our own alienness back to us. How alien we would seem to an alien as how strange an alien would be to us in any encounter. He's on slippery ground. We cannot gainsay the beauty of non-verbal images, but this has no substance without a narrative thread. As a former director of music videos and TV commercials there is a slickness, he creates atmosphere and mood, but lacking dialogue or narrative, what does happen has a certain repetition and tedium, blankness and incomprehension, emptied as the story is of its intellectual content and relevant details. Still its Johansson's best yet. A very anti- Scarlett performance where she takes risks.
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The film that truly proves what a visual medium film is
Daggerborn20 January 2015
I implore anybody that has seen this movie once, and not liked it, to watch it once more. This time, however, take into account that film is a visual medium. Instead of expecting a narrator or a character to easily explain to you what is happening try paying attention to what is happening. Examine and truly THINK about what is expressed visually. The brilliant part about Under The Skin is how well it tells a story without dialog, without running commentary, and without the central character saying much at all.

Think about the purpose of what the female character is doing. The entire story tells itself so easily if you let it. The problem with the modern movie-goer, and admittedly myself, is that we want things explained to us. We're happy to be treated like ignorant flatheads that don't know our butts from our elbows. Look at any other review here on IMDb and pay close attention to what is being criticized. They are mostly the same things over and over again.

They don't criticize what is conveyed through the film's imagery. Instead, they say things like "Not enough was explained." "This film had no plot." "The movie went nowhere." or "Nothing happened." At the risk of sounding smug, I will say that these people are looking for the wrong things in this movie, or any movie. When going into any new film it's important to remember the medium you're choosing to entertain you. It's not like a book on tape, or music. Movies can explain the plot, story, character motivations, and roles without having to have a character, or narrator explain it to you.

I was one of those people that didn't "get" this film and gave it an extremely low rating of 1 star. But I decided to change to a 7 after much reflection on the content and thoughts it provoked afterward. After reading over 5 or 6 positive I got curious. Why do so many people think this movie is fantastic and innovative? I implore you to look up the video review by Renegade Cut.

This one video, in addition to Under The Skin, made me rethink what I think a movie should be. It can be artistic, and different, and entertaining without following the well established formula for modern movies. Personally, I feel like people in general are too harsh. A one star rating should be reserved for terrible films, with nothing to say at all. Well, that's not this film. It certainly has plenty to say about what it's like to be an outsider, and what a gift it truly is to be human.

A one star rating should be reserved for the most thoughtless trash in existence. This isn't even close to that. Was it for me? No, but I certainly "get" it. I get what the message is, and what it was trying to do. That I had to think to myself "What did I just watch?" was enough for a 7 star rating. It made me think, re-evaluate, and wonder. As much as I like Guardians of the Galaxy, or Indiana Jones, I have to ask myself "Did either one of those films make me feel this way?" No, they didn't.

And also, do films necessarily have to be for entertainment? To which I also say no. Films can be about raising a question, or provoking a thought, or experiencing emotions. Maybe the tedium of a scene evokes boredom, but what if that's the point of the scene being shown? Look past your eyes, think about what the director's intent was, and I think you'll enjoy this one way more on a repeat viewing.
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Someone kept pausing the film....no wait they didn't.
The_moan_of_all_moans16 March 2014
I would like to start by saying i am a fan of films that are "different". I don't need a million gunshots or explosions to entertain me. I am not set on good guy vs bad guy and good guy winning. I like thought provoking films; i enjoy them much more than the soul sucking films that are manufactured on a daily basis. So i was intrigued by this one. The trailer was dark and seemed full of suspense. The critics had made bold comparisons with Stanley Kubrick, which in itself is a massive compliment. And as someone who lives in Scotland it had a little sentiment to it.

But for me it was dull. Every time i thought it was going to pick up the pace, it decelerated. It was so slow it may as well have been going backwards. There are far too many scenes that are prolonged. I am fully aware of its intention to focus on aesthetically driven scenes. But 5/6 seconds is enough to appreciate it, not 10/15 seconds. At some points i thought the reel had maybe stuck and was expecting a CineWorld employee to come pacing round the corner to explain that there was something wrong. It just pauses at points that don't need that much attention. I am also aware of the symbolic nature the film carries. It is clearly a film you need to look further to understand it in more depth. That is fine; i welcome that, but the problem is that it does this without conviction. I don't need to see the masses of drunkards who swarm Sauchiehall Street 20 times. What is the purpose? To let us know that we, as people, blindly walk through life intoxicated not appreciating the finer things in life? That Under the skin we are empty? I assume that is a candidate for its meaning.

Scarlett Johansson doesn't have a lot to do in this film; basically make small talk and get naked, all the while with a plain face. And considering how ridiculous the Scottish actors are made to look, maybe she is due some credit for maintaining that straight face. There are a few things that bug me however; like she can walk down your average staircase, but panics with a spiral staircase. There is a definite point to this film, but with the layout, with there being no real culmination, no real explanation, it leaves you feeling you have been robbed of a film that could have been more. Could have told a better story. And for any Americans who watch, not all Scottish people talk like that, or wear horrible purple shirts, unnecessarily tucking them into our over elevated jeans. We don't all support Hibs and when a van is parked not all of us will gang up and try to break into the van. So feel free to visit. It is a nice place after all. Although the film had some stunning scenes and promotes Scotland visually, it doesn't exactly put the people in a great light.

I wanted to enjoy this film, but i couldn't. I wanted to agree with comparisons with Kubrick, but i certainly won't. You can throw arguments of it was beautifully crafted or had symbolic serenity, but at the end of the day it is slow, uneventful and lacked culmination.
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Jonathon Glazer continues his ascent with another fabulous movie that will entirely divide its audience
markgorman16 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
You have never seen a movie even remotely like this.

It's been a long time coming. Ten years in development, to be precise, and I've followed the saga throughout.

My interest was based on my love of the source novel by Michel Faber which is a modern classic.

Clearly the 10 year development period demonstrated the difficulty with which the novel would translate to the screen but, in my opinion, it was worth the effort, and the wait.

When I heard that it was in Jonathon Glazer's hands (Birth and Sexy Beast) I was encouraged, and when I found out that Scarlett Johansen was to play the central character Isserley (unnamed in the movie but credited as Laura for some reason) my heart skipped a beat.

I was not disappointed, but let's make no mistake, this is a Marmite movie.

My wife was bored to tears. And I can see why one IMDb reviewer headlines his review "Tedious. Thoughtless. Empty. A failure in all ways." But I disagree entirely. It's fair to say that the pace is laconic, but it's a thing of beauty and a movie packed full of ideas, unique special effects and greatness.

If you haven't read the novel you might be forgiven for asking what the hell is going on in this story and, yes, there are elements of it that are fully explored. The long section of the movie where Isserley combs the streets of Glasgow, looking for her victims, with the help of hidden cameras bringing a documentary feel to the whole proceeding, is long and a little repetitive. But it's necessary to show the exhaustion of her task and her eventual disintegration. What's more, it does not paint the city in an entirely positive light. To that end Creative Scotland should be commended for supporting it. It's a movie packed with visual metaphor. There are some moments of horror but they are far from gratuitous and all completely emotionless which is to be expected given that Isserley is an alien, devoid of emotion, sent to earth to farm unattached males for her home planet (not that you'd work that out).

From the opening sequence in which Isserley's eyes are created, to replicate humans', the imagery is breathtakingly disconcerting. It's underpinned by an outstanding soundtrack by Mica Levi.

Johansonn is magnificent. Isn't she always? She is brave to take on a role this opinion dividing, and she manages to exude a total lack of emotion throughout in such a way that, unbelievably, you kind of sympathise with her role as human culler.

Glazer is magnificent. But he always is. Birth is a much underrated movie and anyone who saw his debut, Sexy Beast, cannot fail to love the guy.

This is a great movie. Rammed to the rafters with original thought. It's just a great pity so many of you will dislike it so much.
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Long shots and long silences
davidgee19 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The last time I was this bored in a cinema it was during the era of the French New Wave: films like Last Year In Marienbad and Hiroshima Mon Amour, which were all about Style (if you can call it that) rather than Substance.

Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious woman who preys on hitch-hikers and dropouts in Glasgow and the Scottish Lowlands. It isn't confirmed until the end that she's a PREDATOR-style alien being, but the critics have not kept this "spoiler" from us, so I guess it's okay to mention it. Based on a cult novel and with a cult director (Jonathan Glazer: SEXY BEAST), the film is full of long shots and long silences. It's also filmed in near-total darkness, presumably to keep down the cost of special effects, but this means the viewer can't actually tell what's going on most of the time. Is she just killing her victims or is she 'assimilating' them? Don't know and - sorry! - don't care.

I can't imagine why they needed a star of Johansson's magnitude for this low-budget tosh. Nor can I imagine why she took the role. The SPECIES movies covered the storyline more thrillingly and more viscerally. If this is meant to be a pretentious "art-house" film about an alien predating on alienated members of Scottish society, all I can say is it definitely alienated me!
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The problem here...
bongo_x14 April 2015
The problem with movies like this is that you have the people who hate slow, mysterious movies and it's automatically 1 star because there were no car chases or dubstep, and the people that feel they have to defend anything quiet and ambiguous like this and give 9 or 10 stars. "So boring" vs "You just don't get it, man". These types of films always only get 1 or 10 ratings. Really, it's not possible to make a so-so version?

Sometimes people try to make moody, interesting, thought provoking, different kinds of movies and just don't do a great job. This film was right up my alley in every way, but in the end I just said "meh". It wasn't awful, but it did feel a little dull and needlessly drawn out, seemingly because there just wasn't enough to say to fill the time. There also wasn't much to get, really people, it's not that deep or obtuse.

If there had been more eye candy (besides the obvious) I could have dealt with the other weaknesses easier. But I didn't think the visuals were all that interesting as a lot of people seem to. The whole thing was very film school and didn't totally feel like the work of a mature director, but if you told me it was a student film or something a first timer made on credit cards I would have believed you and said "hey nice effort, keep at it".

I would like to give it more than a 4 just because it's totally my kind of film, but it really didn't deserve it, and as I said, that's the problem with these kinds of movies, people voting for what kind of film they like instead of how good this particular one was.
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If you fall asleep you will have missed nothing.
postmortem-books23 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
At the end of this film someone shouted out "What a load of old pony" and a cheer went up from a fair proportion of the audience - that part that either hadn't left before the end or hadn't fallen asleep. To continue the metaphor then this film is up there with the old nag that Steptoe and Son keep in their back yard.

The opening minutes are pretty indicative of what's to come. A nonsensical light show that signifies what precisely? Throw in eerie soundtrack music. And then extend it way beyond the powers of concentration of the most devoted of viewers.

Motor-bike man runs into a dark ditch and picks up a woman who looks dead. Next, another woman strips the dead woman. Next, she is driving around Glasgow in a white van. The combination of darkness/semi-light and Glaswegian accents which are more or less indecipherable only serves to make whatever's going on on-screen even more confusing. Somewhere along the line the Elephant Man has escaped from another film and gets picked up by Johanssen. He doesn't drown like the previous two men that she seduces but runs off naked across the moors. Motor-bike man catches him and puts into the boot of a car. He drives off. Don't know what happens to the car or Elephant Man. By this time people were leaving, my neighbour was sound asleep and I had two red-hot pins ready to stick into my eyes.

I can't even be bothered to run over the rest of this abysmal, tedious story. Shots were held for ever in the mistaken belief, I presume, that we gave a damn about we were seeing. Nothing happened.

It's now the next morning and I'm still angry at forking out £10 and wasting 2 hours of life to see this pile of dreck. Beany-hatted, sandal-wearing academics will just love this film and will witter on endlessly to their poor students about the "significance" of it all. Believe me, there is none.
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Mortal skin
tomsview9 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Although we are used to movies that break from the conventional, thanks to filmmakers such as David Lynch and Denis Villeneuve, Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" pushes the boundaries even further. It's a film that allows us to view humanity in another light – the good along with the bad.

An alien takes human form as an alluring woman (Scarlet Johansson) who preys on lonely males in Glasgow. She leads them into another dimension where they are seemingly consumed. At first impersonal, she begins to feel emotions about some of the men.

This is especially so with the moving encounter with a disfigured, socially challenged man (Adam Pearson), and later with a man with whom she has an affair. She begins to question herself and becomes disorientated. When she meets a man with darker motives it triggers a stunning ending. This is a movie that absorbs you as completely as the hapless men are absorbed as they eagerly follow Scarlett's impressive, denim-clad hips into the void.

Scarlett Johansson gives a brave performance. You can't ignore the fact that there is a lot of nudity in this film. I guess she thought if I'm going to do it, I'm really going to do it – forget the body double.

Her body is a big part of the effect. She sheds her clothes to reveal a shape that is the very definition of earth mother – a woman combining maternal and sensual qualities – although giver of life is the direct opposite of her character's actions.

The Glasgow setting and the use of real people from the streets gives this film an unusual edge. However, even having dozens of episodes of "Taggart" under my belt didn't prepare me for some of the Glaswegian accents in the film.

However, it's a minor point, there really isn't much dialogue in the film at all; most of the ideas are communicated through the visuals and the silent interaction of the characters. The almost sterile sound of Mica Levi's score with its synths, strings and drums helps communicate unspoken thoughts.

There have been many movies where aliens in human form have developed a taste for Homo sapiens: "Species", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Thing", but "Under the Skin" is far removed from them. I think it is more like "2001: A Space Odyssey". Maybe it was all those spheres against the light at the beginning, but it is more that Glazer challenges us to take a journey to another level of storytelling in much the same way Kubrick and the Star Child did over 40 years ago.

"Under the Skin" has tension but no easy resolutions, we need to connect the dots ourselves – and the beauty of it is that that they can be connected differently each time.
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If your open minded give it a try
RaveReviewerzzz10 August 2014
I am surprised by the amount of negative criticism about this film as I found it mesmerising and intriguing. If your expecting some Hollywood movie about a sexy alien killing lots of dull characters in a gory and sensationalised way (with lots of explosions thrown in), then you will be disappointed. The pace is slow however I felt that this contributed to the whole feel and atmosphere. I liked the use of Scotland as a setting especially the way it contrasted the natural beauty of Scotland with some of the urban ugliness that exists. I also liked the way Scarlett Johansson played the main role - cool, sexy and almost emotionless. I am glad I didn't watch this at the cinema as watching it at home meant I could discuss the film during the many periods of calm. There were a few arty scenes in the film but I did not feel these were pretentious or contrived, again they added to the feel of the film. The ending was a little disappointing in my opinion but I still feel this film is classy, original and will make most people think!
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Strange and hypnotic.
UtopianUK14 July 2014
With its art house feel, this film delivers something very unconventional and intensely strange. If you expect action and gory horror, you will certainly be disappointed. But maybe you will end up hypnotised by the eerie world Scarlett Johansson traverses. The gritty, bleak environment feels like a mixture of grim reality and shadowy nightmare. At times it feels like a surreal dream you want to wake up from, but one that is so compulsive, you can't resist continuing.

Scarlett Johansson is captivating and her English accent spot on. There are many sights, sounds, and characters that go together to create the overall nightmarish dreamscape experience. The direction, creative flair and overall design, make this film very different from the norm.

I came away feeling very affected by the intense experience this film delivers. I will watch it again at some point, but only when my mind is ready, because it really took me to a dark, disturbing place.
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The non-spoiler trailers represents this wonderful movie perfectly
adrian-159 August 2014
Did any of the 100+ 'one star' 'worst film ever' reviewers see the trailer for 'Under the Skin'? If they had, they would have known exactly what they were in for. I'm just guessing that the prospect of seeing Scarlett Johansson naked had many of them them throw caution into the wind. And then they felt cheated. Serves them right.

The trailer perfectly captures the mood of this film, without giving anything away. Distancing, cold, slow, with a continuous sense of doom, terrifying, but also heartbreaking. Some scenes (on the beach, the last passenger, the two guys) will stay with me forever.

An amazing performance by Scarlett Johansson, who was given very little dialogue and had to act non-verbally for most of the running time. Superb soundtrack, editing, and cinematography. It takes some effort to keep up and fill in the blanks (an easy film this is not), but the rewards are ample. But please, see the trailer first.
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Brilliant cinematography can't save empty vessel sci-fi art-house script
Turfseer20 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Jonathan Glazer waited nine years before coming out with his next movie, "Under the Skin," and one wonders why he couldn't have spared us and waited another nine years. The project only shines in the visual department as there's some beautiful cinematography by Daniel Landin, particularly of the Scottish Highlands. Glazer based his script on the novel of the same name by Michael Faber.

The story is a thin one: Scarlett Johansson plays an unnamed woman driving around Scotland in a van, picking up various men and bringing them to a house where they follow her naked into a black void. The men end up being killed with only their skins remaining. At first you wonder who is this woman but it soon becomes apparent that she's some kind of alien.

There are a few variations when it comes to guys Johansson picks up (some are played by non-actors who were initially filmed by hidden cameras). One of the men is a swimmer who tries to save a drowning couple. Johansson knocks out the exhausted swimmer and he ends up as another one of her victims, back at the house of horrors. A crying toddler is left to fend for himself on the beach by Johansson's alien.

More strange stuff: another one of the alien's victims is a sexually inexperienced man with a facial disfigurement. He escapes from the horror house, only to be recaptured by a man on a motorcycle, apparently an accomplice of the alien female.

The climax arrives when a man spots the alien in distress after she's reeling from eating a piece of cake at a restaurant. The man puts the alien up for the night, brings her to a ruined castle where they kiss and back at his home, they begin to have sex. The alien, however, freaks out and wanders into a forest. We don't know why but a logger tries to rape her and when he strips off her clothes, he discovers her body is not human. Then inexplicably, instead of running away in fear, he sets her on fire.

The "big payoff" turns out to be the revelation that the alien is wearing an exoskeleton and she looks more like a lizard with black, leathery skin. What exactly is Glazer's point? We never find out "why" the alien is bringing these men to the house with the weird black void and what it's attempting to gain by killing them. The attempt to convey some kind of atmosphere of dread or terror is lost by the unintentionally comical ending, where the alien is found to have no power and is dispensed with by a most unpleasant human rapist.

Glazer also doesn't realize what a burden it is having to listen to all the natives with their Scottish brogue—most of it is unintelligible. Subtitles should have certainly been in order.

"Under the Skin" once again proves to be a project that undoubtedly will not advance Scarlet Johansson's career. Relying on her good looks alone is not enough to sway a critical audience that expects more. Glazer's "folly" consists of some brilliant cinematography coupled with an empty vessel of a script that leads nowhere.
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Deeply disturbing and ultimately, depressingly pretentious.....
FlashCallahan19 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Johannson plays an alien,who is sent from her planet to harvest Scottish men,because they are the most tasty.

The gimmick Glazer has here, is that some of the men she approaches are actors, and some of them are real life real people!!!

On her journey, she becomes more in the know about humans, and begins to understand our emotions, and misery is the height of the emotion list.....

It's not that I didn't get the film, I did, I understood the connotations of the film, and I enjoyed some of the soundtrack and some of the sublime imagery, but the film is just too darn depressing to give it false praise.

Films are Suppose to entertain, and to challenge the old grey matter, not ruin your day, which this film did, and I'm not exaggerating on this.

Its a dull Scotland through the eyes of Glazer, and its cold, with ironically as much emotion as the alien.

Even though it does spark an emotion from the alien, the scene with the baby is one that doesn't just shock, it offends also, and no amount of stark imagery or psychedelic music could bring me back to side.

The kind of film that makes you sigh unhappily when you think about it.
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Strange, troubling, but artistically special movie
bob-the-movie-man25 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I was intrigued by this film: the (UK) Times reviewer gave it 5 stars; the Sunday Times reviewer gave it 1 star. Such diversity of view has to be investigated! Let's get one thing straight before we start; Under the Skin is very much an 'art house' film, so don't go and see it if you are looking for a nice, linear 'popcorn' movie. It starts very much in '2001' style (or, actually, Close Encounters style) and the poster commentaries about director Jonathan Glazer ('Sexy Beast') being 'the new Kubrick' are not misplaced. The start is decidedly abstract, as is much of the rest of the film.

Under the Skin tells the strange story of an alien being who - for reasons barely explained - disguises him/her/itself as an attractive woman (Scarlett Johansson) who picks up single men in and around Glasgow. These men will not be readily 'missed', and she uses her sexuality to lure them to a - literally - sticky end.

She is aided and abetted in this goal by another alien in the form of a menacing biker, who 'cleans up' evidence after her activities. Her mission really depends on her being inhuman in every sense of the word, and the film shows the journey of Johansson as she starts, almost imperceptibly, to appreciate the comings and goings of the ant-like Glaswegians that she is preying on. Ultimately this desire to understand more and get 'closer' is her undoing: hunter becomes prey, with members of both species out to get her.

Scarlett Johansson is excellent as the emotionless alien, treating events like a yob attack with curious puzzlement rather than fear or anger. I'd like to say I can hardly see enough of Johansson: but actually there is substantial (and brave) nudity in this film, and she is a 'real' woman in every sense of the word. This really is a starring role, since most of the other characters in the film make very fleeting appearances, with - just to even the balance - significant male nudity involved as well.

Whilst the story is relatively slight, the film is executed with significant style, with some atmospheric landscapes and a roving camera around the streets of Glasgow observing (presumably) everyday Glaswegians at work and play. One marvellous scene shows Johansson's face as a transparent layer observing a mosaic of street scenes that build up on the screen: it is so impressive it makes me want to dive for Final Cut X and try to replicate it.

A shout out should also go to the stunt team, for one particularly dangerous-looking (and very harrowing) scene on a deserted beach. If there is one scene that is likely to stick with you long after the film has finished it is the final shot of that beach and the troubled soul upon it.

Music by newcomer Mika Levi is strangely alien as befits the film, full of atonal sounds and (again) being reminiscent of Ligeti's equally strange music in 2011: A Space Odyssey.

You might guess already from my comments that I'm not going to give this 1 star. But I'm also not going to give it 5 stars either. My criticisms fall into a couple of areas. Firstly, setting the film in Glasgow is very atmospheric, but some of the dialogue is (I'm sorry) pretty incomprehensible: and my English ear is better tuned than the American or rest of the world market will find it! (One can only hope that a 'Yes' vote for Scottish independence in September might get films like this classed as 'Foreign Films', and subtitles can be provided!) More seriously, the ending of the film irritated me enormously. Woman meets man in lonely woods and immediately becomes the target for a sexual assault. Obviously. "They're all asking for it". This is lazy and mysogynist plotting, letting the overall movie down. I guess the director was trying to compare and contrast the hunter/hunted switch through the film, but in my humble opinion the film could have reached its denouement in a much more elegant and believable way.

For this reason, I knock a few points off the score.

(If you enjoyed this review, please go to bobmann447.wordpress.com and sign up to 'Follow the Fad'!)
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Scarlett in all her glory, Alien to me.
TxMike25 January 2020
I am a Scarlett Johansson fan, ever since I saw her in "Horse Whisperer" in 1998. Realizing I had not seen this one yet, I managed to find it via the Kanopy streaming service through my public library's subscription.

It is not a mainstream movie, with a clear story and character motivations. It is a good watch for those who enjoy occasionally exploring alternative themes and filming styles. There is a vague opening, to suggest that an alien character has arrived and will explore Earth, in the process hunting down unsuspecting males. Scarlett Johansson plays the lead and is only known as "The Female."

All filmed in Scotland, much of it outside towns and cities in the unusual and mostly beautiful countryside. There isn't much action, nor is there much dialog. The film is atmospheric and attractive, and when it ends it is very easy to think "so what?"

I am glad I took the time to watch it but I will estimate that most lovers of clear-cut, mainstream movies will not enjoy it.
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Amazing but not for everyone
spacejunk0016 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a film that will divide audiences, for sure - but, don't forget, so did 2001: A Space Odyssey when it came out. Despite the presence of a mainstream actress, and a science fiction premise, this is an art film 100%, inviting a very subjective response from audiences. Which isn't to say it doesn't have a plot, though. Addressing the confusion of previous IMDb comments - the men that Johansson's alien traps have their innards sucked out and transported through a cosmic portal. One scene makes that pretty hard to miss! The film is about her developing a morality based on her actions, and trying to escape the purpose on earth that she's functioned for, that her overseers (the people on motorbikes - also aliens in human form) make sure she goes through with)

A super-creepy music score, amazing visuals and a brave & mesmerizing performance from SJ combine for a film that will be talked about for years to come. Ignore whatever you read about it - especially the bad comments here, which are completely ignorant - and go in with an open mind.
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Completely Fresh and Original Sci-Fi
Michael_Elliott13 January 2015
Under the Skin (2013)

*** (out of 4)

Director Jonathan Glazer's bizarre yet fascinating science-fiction film about a young woman (Scarlett Johansson) who comes to Earth and seduces lonely men and leads them to their deaths.

You could show UNDER THE SKIN to a hundred different people and you'd probably get a hundred different versions of what the story is or what it's trying to say. This is the type of film that really doesn't have a traditional story to it and instead we're just taken on a journey. This journey is told in a visual sense, an audio sense and an emotional one. The visual sense is certainly the beauty of Johansson. The audio sense is the haunting score by Mica Levi. The emotional sense is the one where most viewers are going to be divided and I'm sure one viewer's connection to the emotion in the film will be hotly debated by another viewer.

I'm not going to sit here and try to explain what the story meant. I think to do that you'd need to see a film like this at least four or five times and I think it's fair to say that even after a dozen viewings you might still take something different away from it. Unlike some, I didn't love the film but at the same time there's no question that director Glazer has created something quite bold, fresh and original. I've heard people compare this to the work of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, which is something I'd certainly agree with. There's a lot of great stuff about this film but it goes without saying it's going to be very subjective as to who wants to enjoy it and stick around for everything.

I thought there were some extremely haunting moments scattered throughout the film. The majority of these take place during the first hour including a brilliant sequence on a beach, which is one of the most nerve-wrecking scenes you're going to witness all year. Another terrific moment takes place inside the abandoned house where the female takes her victims. The seduction sequence is unlike anything we've ever seen before and the poetic nature of it is quite fresh and haunting. Of course, the highlight of the film, to me anyways, is the downright chilling music score, which perfectly puts you in the right mood for such a picture and it builds up such a creepy atmosphere.

Johannson got a lot of press for her nude scenes but after the film released this here wasn't nearly as talked about as her actual performance. She doesn't have too much to say in the film. In fact, she mostly asks innocent questions and listens to the men answer. Acting without words is some of the hardest stuff to do and the actress really shines and especially towards the end when her character's emotions start to come out. The supporting cast all fit their roles nicely and help bring a realistic nature to the picture.

UNDER THE SKIN is a film that will probably be debated for decades to come. It's certainly going to be loved by some and hated by many but any film daring to be original and try something new is going to have this type of reaction.
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Not for everyone...
iwatkin25 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Until I read someone's explanation of the opening of the movie, there was no way I was going to understand it. It culminated in an eye (which I kind of anticipated). Beyond that, I was clueless, but knew that I was in for an "interesting" 90 minutes.

One review I read elsewhere stated, "If you want to see Scarlett Johansson drive around in a van for 90 minutes... go for it!" While not entirely inaccurate as far as reviews go, it's not all she does in the movie. Having been disappointed again and again by her acting, it made perfect sense to cast her as an emotionless alien predator. In many ways, this is just another take on the vampire genre. It has sci-fi elements scattered about the place, but it's mostly a beautiful exposition of early spring-time Scotland and a terrible characterization of Scottish people.

Almost entirely devoid of language, barring the odd, "Do you have a girlfriend?" or, "I'm trying to get to the M8," it relies almost entirely on imagery and action to tell the story.

Having said that, you may be fooled into thinking that I didn't like the movie at all. I actually enjoyed it. I "got" the plot without any problems, though a reading of the novel would definitely fill in some gray areas. But I can't get over the idea that a lot of the plot went on in Scarlett's character's head. Her ultimate empathy for the human race and her desperate bid to break free of her ghoulish task are only partly explained.

All in all, not enough plot to cover the time allotted, but I didn't feel scammed or that I'd entirely wasted my time. But definitely not a "redefining of what it means to be human" as one reviewer put it.

I also have to note that my television turned itself off about halfway through. That's never happened before. Was it trying to tell me something?
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It's OK to be different, it's OK to do your own thing.
proterozoic4 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Interesting how it worked out for Scarlett Johansson this year: first, a voice-only role in 'Her,' then this one where she's highly visible but says almost nothing. Merge the two, and you have a full-blown talkie.

Under the Skin is the sort of movie that gives critics a bad name, because it's really good and they invariably love it and get perceived as abstract art snobs. I too get annoyed with experimental movies that try to seem profound by dumping a load of nonsense on the viewer and counting on apophenia to do their job.

However, there's a huge difference between deliberate obfuscation and 'show, don't tell,' and Under the Skin is a fantastic example of the latter. It's bleak, quiet and depressing, and most people who see it will probably hate it, but they should anyway, just to help them realize how much redundant clap-trap there is in most of our movies.

Under the Skin may not have a single line of exposition, but is easy to follow. The story fits in a tag line: alien sex siren lures men into its creepy lair and sucks out their essence; but somewhere along the line, begins to have doubts.

Much of it is shot documentary-style, with hand-held or concealed cameras. ScarJo drives a rapevan around Glasgow, trying to pick up stray men. She brings them back to a house, stripping slowly as they hop after her on one foot to get their pants off. Once they're nude, they sink into the ground without a trace.

The movie switches between hidden camera footage, damp naturalistic sweeps of forests and ocean waves, and nice non-representational effects, like the opening where color beams and circles slowly morph into a human eye, over strange disjointed vocalizations that bring to mind a mollusc practicing English.

While we're on the subject of English spoken by creatures it wasn't meant for, the Scottish accents are insurmountable. It's like Britain's Cantonese. And there are no subtitles. Typical dialog:

ScarJo: "Do you live alone?"

Guy: "Elxzap zlflasd opvejcf kljndjk gjsgs csdag."

ScarJo: "That must be hard."

Guy: "Akhadks lklsdgsga erlifsd, h aha."

ScarJo: "Heh."

Luckily, we're not missing much here - most of the talk in this movie is the same kind of noise-making that goes on between couples in bars, to fill up space while the real conversation goes on via body language ("You want to bang?" "Yes.")

Why should you see this movie? Because it's really beautiful, shows you visuals you've never seen before, tells a tragic mystery without burying you in exposition, and holds an absolutely unselfconscious confidence. It shows beauty and ugliness as a matter of fact, without constantly checking to make sure we grasp which is which. It uses special effects to quietly augment reality and paint the fantastic into the corners of ordinary scenes. It may leave you weirded out and uncomfortable, but if you're tired of noise and crave a film experience that's tasteful, minimal and pure like a Tschichold book cover, run and see it now now now.
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A modern classic and a true gem of a film
DVD_Connoisseur20 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
As Under the Skin began, I felt a rare tingle of excitement. Watching this film took me back to viewing the likes of Nicolas Roeg's movies as a youngling. However, Under the Skin is more than just today's equivalent of The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Like one of the characters in the movie, I felt I had to pinch myself during the proceedings. The fact that Under the Skin exists is quite surprising in itself. We have Film4 to thank for backing this production, this is so far removed from Hollywood as the main protagonist is from her home.

And yet...we have the mind boggling sight of Scarlett Johansson's character touring around Scotland in a white transit van, propositioning real people as well as actors. When I read a brief summary of what this film was about, I imagined something low-res and cheap on the screen, all grain and poor hidden camera footage. The film delivers instead a remarkably visual extravaganza of sight and sound whilst contrasting scenes of the incredible with those of the everyday reality. I never, in a million years, thought I see Scarlett Johansson wandering around a shopping centre, passing the likes of Claire's and Boots on her quest for her next victim.

The film could have been a disaster, a caffeine fuelled idea that failed dismally when the concept was transferred to the screen. Instead, it's a stroke of genius and a genuinely unnerving experience. There is one moment in particular that had my skin crawling, a horrific and yet surreal death that made me jump and shudder.

Beautiful, moving, gritty, surprising and totally hypnotic, Jonathan Glazer's movie is unmissable. It's not your average horror movie and some genre fans will hate it but, for me, this is an instant classic and one that will be well regarded in years to come.
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A truly disturbing masterpiece
rb-6628 July 2014
Oh the sweet anger of the morons who stumbled into this looking for another vacuous blockbuster. Finally some revenge for all the promising sci-fi films lately we've been duped into hoping would be something interesting.

This film is difficult to describe. It is dark, atmospheric, unsettling, terrifying but utterly captivating. It's tone reminded me of 2001, although it's even more sparse than that. But that is as good a reference point as any to get a sense of this film, and it's that good. Scarlet Johansson is wonderful. The score is perfect and it's stunningly shot.

A truly unique film.
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An Art House Treasure!
g-bodyl11 March 2015
From what I have seen regarding critic and audience reviews of this film, Under the Skin is one of the most decisive movies of 2014. People criticize the lack of action and dialogue and they call this film a borefest. However, I found this film to be a deep film with a high level of philosophy. It is about society and how people struggle in society and how hard it is to fit in if you are different. This film has respectful homages to directors like Stanley Kubrick and to films such as 1980's The Elephant Man.

Jonathan Glazer's film is about an alien who takes the disguise of a gorgeous young woman. She travels the Scottish highways in search for lonely men to seduce and take to another dimension to put them to a permanent end.

This is a role unlike anything Scarlett Johansson has ever played before. Her looks remain top-notch, but this shows her acting ability as the film doesn't feature much dialogue. Just one glance at her actions or her expressions can tell you what she is thinking. This is her most challenging role and she proves she can handle these type of roles.

Overall, Under the Skin is a very abstract movie that deep-thinkers will love. This expecting an ordinary sci-fi or action film, definitely do not watch this film. It's a film that is lost in its own moral beauty and I just love that. I do have an issue with the plot as I wanted to know the logic for the reasons the alien wants to take lonely men. The film looks gorgeous as the Scottish highlands are a beautiful area. A movie that should be on the top of the list for cinephiles.

My Grade: A-
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