There are experiences in life one can explain with rational thought but others which often lie beyond the boundary of logical definition. Moments when, lifted out of your body into another stranger realm, a sense of the uncanny reawakened with a confirmation that this world around contains secrets and codes often hidden beneath the surface, beyond the limits of rational thought and the imagination.
Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Fabers cult 2000 novel Under The Skin is one of those experiences. As troubling, disturbing, beautiful and mysterious as modern movies can get, this is a singular and bold work of visual art. Abstraction and atmosphere reign subjugating the spare, deliberately enigmatic narrative.
If you have read the book, you will know the basic plot; a being not of this earth disguised as a beautiful woman – here portrayed by Scarlett Johansson – picks up hitchhikers in her transit van as she scours the Scottish highlands and Glasgow city for fresh victims. But Glazers film completely discards any pretence to explain through dialogue relying instead on his supreme command of imagery, sound and mood to a pure sensory experience.
Glazer captures the creepy, unsettling mood of Faber’s book, removing much of the narrative to focus on this mysterious visitors view of her surroundings and the odd creatures living within it much akin to Nicolas Roeg approach in his iconic reworking of Walter Tevis brilliant sci-fi novel The Man Who Fell To Earth. There, we had David Bowie as an alien disguised as a human travelling light years from his home planet to find water, here we have Johansson as an alien disguised as a woman preying on men for purposes never made clear.
But here, Glazer blurs the line between reality and fiction as the film switches between an anthropological study of Glasgow’s denizens with many of the actors Johannson interacts with non professionals and the weirder, more controlled science fiction horror aesthetic. The familiar becomes the unfamiliar; the dark Glasgow streets, the windswept Scottish landscape, the vibrant, flawed humanity around its edges feel as terrifying and unknowable, as any alien civilization.
Unusual and fascinating.