Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Under the Skin: Scarlett Johansson vs. Scotland
years after the classic Twilight Zone episode,
aliens are still devising ways to serve man, with a little butter and garlic.
However, viewers of Jonathan Glazer’s much anticipated new film will be
forgiven if they do not realize this is the extraterrestrials’ reason for
visiting Scotland. Mood and composition take precedence over petty bourgeoisie
concerns, like narrative and pacing, throughout Glazer’s Under the Skin (trailer here), which opens today in New York.
Skin is ostensibly based on the novel
by Michel Faber, so we can infer some exposition from the original source
material. It seems aliens have a taste for human muscle, so the woman visitor has
been sent to harvest some from the brawniest knuckle-draggers she can entice
into the back of her van. Sometimes she appears to have a counterpart escorting
her on his motorbike, but he disappears for long stretches (probably because he
first, she seems ruthlessly efficient, but as she encounters the less
fortunate, she starts to change. Yet, becoming more “human” leaves her
increasingly vulnerable to man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man. Or
something like that.
is not a heck of a lot of plot in Skin,
but what there is manages to be both slow and confusing. About the third or
fourth time she lures another man-dog into her cosmic pool of black goo, you
start to wonder how this film ever got made without Tangerine Dream on-board.
There are more wide shots of cloud draped forests than both seasons of Twin Peaks combined. Frankly, it is hard
to believe this is the work of Glazer, arguably the most lauded television
commercial director of our time and the man who helmed the breakout hit, Sexy Beast.
is also hard to get one’s head around the wildly unflattering wig Scarlett
Johansson sports as the primary alien. Frankly, this is Johansson as we have
never seen her before: naked, yet boring. There is no question Skin is more closely akin to
experimental cinema than science fiction genre films, but it sounds deceptively
commercial: “nude alien chick puts men through the interstellar meat-grinder.”
It will surely attract a loyal band of critical champions who will defend it
with terms like “hypnotic” and “trance-inducing,” which sounds seductive, but
really means you will be paying fourteen dollars to fight off the head-nods.
In many ways, Skin feels like a throwback to the sort of weirdly cerebral 1970s science
fiction forays (such as Robert Altman’s Quintet
and Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell
to Earth) that were green-lighted by clueless studio heads caught
flat-footed by the Star Wars phenomenon,
but Skin is more openly contemptuous
of mainstream sensibilities. For a while, Daniel Landin’s gauzy cinematography
is rather effectively dreary, in a way befitting Scotland’s backwoods, but the
film simply becomes a chore to watch. Not recommended for anyone except
Johnasson stalkers and the most pretentious hipster cineastes, Under the Skin opens today (4/4) in New
York at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Scarlett Johansson, Sci-Fi films