After a smashing festival run and an equally heralded mini-theatrical presence, I made damn sure I wasn’t going to miss Under The Skin on Blu-Ray, being my last shot to weigh in on Scarlett Johansson’s sultry sci-fi pic. From everything I’d heard, writer/director Jonathan Glazer redefined the image of an American sweetheart, while taking audiences on a self-reflecting extraterrestrial journey – but that was nothing but hype. Cheap, infuriating hype.
I’m not one for über-minimalist filmmaking – exemplified by my disregard for movies like Drive – which essentially set me up for failure as soon as I’d realized Johannson’s only lines involved her asking horny men for directions. Under The Skin attempts to skate by on visual artistry alone, as Glazer plunges men into dark pools of blue jello and then turns them into floating skin-sheets, but while mesmerizing our eyes through a flurry of naked dongers and nudie Johannson shots, Glazer also loses track of pacing, plotting, and curiosity. An auteur akin to Lars Von Trier can balance elegance, beauty, and story coherence, which is something Glazer struggles MIGHTILY to comprehend.
I will admit Johannson enters her skin almost as if she’s new to her own human form, distancing herself through doe-eyes and a distaste for people food, but Glazer reduces the starlet to nothing but a curious kitten. Her deadly art of seduction lures men in like a bug zapper, until her pitch-black lair finishes the deed through liquid harvesting. Yes, men are so hypnotized by Johannson’s undeniably gorgeous appearance that they completely ignore some sort of liquid pool enveloping them until fully submersed and trapped – a bit of a sci-fi misfire if you ask me. Well, I shouldn’t say that – the frustration comes from repetition, as one naked brochacho follows suit right after the next, only highlighting man’s sexually-obsessed stupidity.
Under The Skin suffers from a nasty case of dreadful repetition on the whole, as Johannson’s alien character drives about picking up lonely, single men, lures them to the harvest, then resets the cycle for another go. One by one men throw their best drunken pick-up lines towards their cold-hearted abductor, sensuality wins them over, then it’s another dip in the old dude pool for the next poor sap. The same barren room shrouded in darkness, the same suspicious van, the same tantalizing Johannson – well, THAT I could get used to – but you catch my drift. Under The Skin subsequently becomes a one-trick visual pony, glorified by impressionable independent artists. I feel as if hipsters substitute the word “different” for “brilliant” a bit too often these days…
By the time Johannson entered the transformative bit of her character arc, I was fighting boredom and sleep simultaneously – and Glazer’s grand finale barely delivered any forgivable goods. Simplicity is grand sometimes, as characters of little words exude larger-than-life images, but in these cases, something supplemental still drives an overarching story. Johannson succeeds in following her director’s orders, becoming an emotionless “murderer” hiding in plain, fleshy sight, but Under The Skin eventually becomes a silent try-hard, forcing downplayed obscurities in an egotistical bout of genre boredom – a sad, frustrating culmination for an immensely talented director who creates prideful artwork boasting passion and originality. It’s a shame to see such an attempt become as soulless as its main character.
Touching upon the technical aspects of this Blu-Ray release, a vibrant 1080P high-def picture quality favors Glazer’s heavily stylized set-pieces, controlling color hues and brighter contrasts with ease. As stated, Glazer is an undeniably talented artist, creating moving curiosities set against a slowly beating drum, like the film’s heartbeat, so I have no qualms with commending a highly impressive home release transfer. When you’ve got it, flaunt it – and Under The Skin does just that.
In the way of Special Features, there’s only a “Making Of” featurette divided into different categories (with the ability to Play All) where Glazer and company discuss different behind-the-scenes aspects from “Casting” to “Poster Design” – essentially just quick little one-off explanations that make you go “Oh, so that’s how they did it!” For those of you yearning to hear Glazer pine over Scarlett Johansson and defend his immediate casting choice, plenty of information exists for some extra digestion, but to someone disinterested like myself, there isn’t any draw in these extra little informational nuggets.
I’ve seen some darn good science fiction this year, and I wish Under The Skin could rank amongst those movies, but Glazer’s film boils down to nothing but glitz and glamor. Johansson plays a sexy, devilish character hellbent on societal “integration,” but ultimately there’s no meat to chew on, no heartiness to hold onto. Don’t worry about me though – plenty of other people are singing this “provocative masterpiece’s” praises, so luckily my opinion will probably just fall to the wayside, hidden under a heaping pile of flattering compliments. Trust me, there’s no way I’ll be missing Jonathan Glazer’s next film, but until then, I’ll just sit out any discussion that involves his latest head-scratcher.
Under The Skin is about as emotionless a sci-fi film as I've seen in recent memory, but I completely understand the mounting praise - it just unfortunately won't be coming from me.