What would you do if, while walking along, Scarlett Johansson pulled over and started chatting you up? Well, quite a few Scotsmen got to find out during the filming of Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, showing for just one more night at the Spectrum in Albany.
Distributed by newcomer A24, Under the Skin may have suffered from what’s probably one the most unfairly minimalist marketing campaigns ever.
At least we have this synopsis: “A voluptuous woman of unknown origin (Scarlett Johansson) combs the highways in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again.”
A24 also describes the film as “a masterpiece of existential science fiction” and that’s not hyperbolic. Extremely light on dialogue, but heavy on strong, simple visuals and blunt symbolism, Under the Skin engages from its first moments, allowing the viewer to spy on the private thoughts of the participants without telegraphing their emotions or agenda. Johansson’s character, Laura, seeks out individuals for conversation, but the circumstance – contrasted against her just slightly too made up outfit and too friendly interest – proves unsettling. The viewer can feel something isn’t quite right. The film is mostly fiction, but as previously mentioned, many of the people filmed were not actors, but random people walking down the street. The van Johansson drove had been fitted with high quality hidden cameras to capture the interactions, and these scenes blend seamlessly into the larger narrative. Just two of the pedestrians Johansson approaches are actors and, in retrospect, it’s fairly easy to recognize which they were. Being a creepy alien, some freaky things happen, but this is as much a fascinating character study as it is science fiction thriller as it is extended episode of Punk’d. Johansson is terrific in the role.
Glazer hasn’t made a notable film since 2004’s oedipally challenged Birth, and his fantastic 2001 Ray Winstone / Ben Kingsley fronted British gangster sugar-coma Sexy Beast. Though distinctly different genres, Glazer’s films always succeed in unsettling the viewer. They aren’t “fun” and yet they are – for any audience, but especially for cinephiles and casual Hitchcock fans.
Though tonight is the last showing of the film, with a mood and deliberateness like THX-1138, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or time travel indy Primer, this is one definitely not Hollywood film that shouldn’t be missed.
Copyright 2014 A24 Films.