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Review: Under the Skin (2013)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer | 108 minutes | drama, fiction, thriller | Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek

Beware of the most sensory of 2014. In our opinion already cult, although the philosophical effect may be a bit thin. But hey, this is a film and what the heck: an hour and 45 minutes on of the seat because of one woman: as an anonymous van-driver in rainy Scotland.

Anyone familiar with Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, which serves as an inspiration, is prepared, aspiring visitors are entitled to a blank page. Johansson plays another worldly predator, in one of her most subdued and intense roles. She is an outsider, observant of a grim world – for much of the the car landscape of Glasgow. We watch her mesmerized and marvel at things that slide past us: a mutilated man, groups of youngsters fighting, shoppers.

Johansson – wearing a black wig – takes the form of a young woman at the beginning of the film, and lures men into her Ford Transit with the promise of sex, after which they are ‘sacrificed’. The role of passive-aggressive siren is literally and figuratively suited to the voluptuous Johansson. She knows herself to be watched and can mold it. She is to a large extent the role she plays, but at the same time allows herself to be molded to the image of her viewers, the most important director in his first since ‘Birth’ (2004). The theme of that film – reincarnation – is equally prominent in ‘Under the Skin’. The visual quality of Glazer’s work, which can be found in a Radiohead video clip as well as a Sony commercial, is enchanting.

As always becomes apparent in the scenes, which are as sharp as intoxicating, in which the pried men walk naked after Johansson into a bath of black liquid. The shot of a car ride in darkness, in which the viewer sees the face of driver Johansson included in the reflection of the windscreen, in itself calls for an art exhibition. The transition to Scottish nature in the second half of the can even be called sobering. Yet this figurative decor plays just as important a role as the stylized one; nature accentuates the humanization of ‘alien’ Johansson. Not as impressive and sensual as before, but now and still alienating, thanks in part to Mica Levi’s minimalist score. With ‘Under the Skin’, which mainly raises questions about manners, Glazer clearly shows that he is not a pretty filmmaker.

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