by Adam Riske
F-Heads, have you heard about a new distributor named A24? If you haven’t, you should. They get me. They are my Marvel. After a consecutive run that includes Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, The Spectacular Now, Enemy and now Under the Skin, I’m starting to believe they are a beacon of quality in indie cinema. Their output is daring, provocative, interesting and entertaining, but maybe more importantly not Oscar-baiting or pretentious. They are making some of the best director’s and actor’s movies since Miramax in the '90s. Keep up the good work, A24!*
Writer-Director Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is A24’s best since Spring Breakers. It is about as good a Stanley Kubrick movie that someone other than Stanley Kubrick could probably make. It’s as if Kubrick was handed the script to Species, kept about 20 pages and then came up with the rest himself. Throw in an often-nude Scarlett Johansson (spoiler: she looks good) and you have a new cult classic.
The plot in brief: an alien takes the form of a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) and stalks the roads of Scotland looking for isolated, unattached men to lure them into a type of extraterrestrial trap (which, in the best reveal of the year so far, is truly terrifying once you see what it is). While on the job, the alien grows more human, which leads to results both rewarding and dire.
This is probably the best Scarlet Johansson has ever been in a movie. I have usually been a fan of hers because she’s beautiful, has great taste in material “and JEWISH!” (Sorry, my mom interrupted). She makes all the Bar-Mitzvah boys go “doo do doo do doo do do doo…” is what I’m saying. Her adult career started out great with Ghost World and Lost in Translation, but she soon seemed over her head in some of her other movies with older co-stars such as Match Point or The Prestige. Since 2011, she appears to be in her wheelhouse and more comfortable and ingratiating on screen. I’ve noticed I’ve been drawn to her personality more recently than I have before in movies including We Bought a Zoo, Don Jon and even fucking Hitchcock (where she is the only good thing). She’s having an especially strong 2014 with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (where she gives a fun, charismatic movie-star performance) and now Under the Skin, which is distinct from any of her previous work.
Her (a movie I don’t love but seem to want to watch every day), and it’s hard to deny how talented of an actress she is.
I commonly complain that not enough movies are about something. This is why I love a movie like Under the Skin, which has a bounty of themes. In a way, the movie is about a person on a work trip doing their job, spending their spare time and also playing hooky for a little while. This is a lonely movie led by a single performance but expresses some interesting ideas about altruism (the alien is cold at the beginning but eventually grows more compassionate), delusion (the alien tries to eat human food, have sex etc.) and the variety of different relationships that can be had between men and women (sexual, romantic, friendly, motherly). To the movie’s credit, everything is touched on but you never feel beaten over the head as if you’re watching an "important" movie. It’s stylish but unfussy.
The most interesting theme the movie delves into has to do with gender -- in particular, how it feels to be a beautiful, single (meaning off-on-your-own; not relationship status) woman who is preyed upon by men. For as much as the alien is hunting the men walking the roads of Scotland, man is stalking this woman because she resembles a woman and not an alien. It also does a good job of putting you in the shoes of the debilitating and mortifying catatonic state that sexual assault can trigger. Don’t let that last sentence scare you off of the movie, though. Just wanted to give it credit for being able to put a guy in a woman’s shoes when it comes to sexual proposition. It can be scary. It’s weird because by the end of the movie I understood women better and this was from a movie about an alien! Maybe the point is that men sometimes view women almost as aliens instead of as people? I don’t know, but I’ll take it. Fucking Transcendence doesn’t make you think about shit except how bad it is. Movies, when they’re good genre pieces such as Under the Skin, can change the way you think and feel. This is great Science Fiction.
Go see Under the Skin. It’s better than Draft Day.
*Note: Before Under the Skin, there was a trailer for the upcoming Tom Hardy movie called Locke, which is also from A24. It has some of the most hilarious critics’ quotes ever: “The kind of film that restores your faith in the power of both acting and storytelling,” which is like “ok, settle down, guys.” Then “...Defies our notion of what’s cinematic,” which is only slightly less hyperbolic. Next is an old favorite: “Tom Hardy is a one man tour-de-force.” But my absolute favorite quote (maybe ever) is the last one: "Reverberates with the power of universal themes." LOL. OMG. ROTFFL. IDK. OMG. LOL. Your mom reverberates with the power of universal themes. Please set your phone on reverberate with the power of universal themes setting. Do they mean like the Jurassic Park theme maybe? That’s a Universal theme. Does Locke reverberate as hardcore parkour as that? Now, I have to see Locke. After I eat a bagel so I can make my day all bagels and Locke. Oh! The two Jewish guys reading this got that at least, right?