UNDER THE SKIN. All men reduced to the game

A young, attractive brunette roams the streets of Scottish towns at night and hunts for single men.

Jan DÄ…browski

16 July 2023

under the skin poster

I support the assumption that not everything in the film has to start/end in a legible way. The director suggests the viewer to make his own guesses. The success of such a screening depends on whether the viewer takes up this game or remains a passive recipient of moving pictures. I had no contact with Jonathan Glazer’s work before – after watching Under the Skin, I intend to make up for this oversight.

under the skin scarlett johansson

A young, attractive brunette (Scarlett Johansson) roams the streets of Scottish towns at night and hunts for single men. He talks to them under the pretext of asking for directions, the conversation develops, and when the goal turns out to be appropriate (a bachelor, a single tourist, etc.), then they both go to the woman’s apartment…

Anonymous men are reduced to the game here, and apart from the main character, there are practically no important characters here (except for mysterious bikers). The woman from the first moment is surrounded by a halo of mystery, clearly “something is wrong with her”. For the first dozen or so minutes of the film, no sentence is uttered, but if dialogue does occur, it is subordinated to the hunt.

under the skin face in the mirror

Anonymous woman is cold, seems indifferent to everything that does not concern her purpose. Scarlett Johansson does a great job in this role. He skillfully builds his character, balancing between strict stoicism and occasional and short “normal” reactions. Initially puzzling, over time it becomes clear and the viewer begins to understand this way of being of the heroine. Lovers of Scarlett’s beauty will be able to feast their eyes on her charms, as Under the Skin contains several scenes where she appears naked. The very frugal acting is combined with the equally austere locations of Scotland, maintained in cold color tones. Combined with the unhurried framing and unsettling soundtrack, Glazer’s picture is engrossing and moving. The more we delve into the woman’s actions, the more information we get about everything. Finding out who it is is not a very difficult puzzle. However, the reason for her nocturnal hunts turns out to be extremely creative, especially in terms of form.

under the skin scarlett johansson in a bus

In the scenes where we learn about the fate of men, the artists’ artistic talent is revealed. These are the most (except for the ending) technically sophisticated moments, and at the same time the most disturbing, which is also due to the great musical illustration of these scenes. As the film has a very simple structure, it is worth mentioning the scenes that are not important for the plot itself, but perfectly complement the image of the heroine. There are two moments in the movie. In the first of them, there is a child left on the beach, which the woman completely ignores, although the little one is clearly in danger. In the second – male prey requires a delicate approach due to its handicap. Both scenes are very telling.

under the skin black room

The apparent schematic nature of the first half of the film does not cause fatigue, and the subsequent stages of acquiring men are developed over time. We get to know the destiny of this human game in a form full of understatements, but suggestive enough. The climate is dark, associated with Lynch-Cronenberg stylistic treatments. Some viewers may also have associations with the film Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg’s debut, quite successful, by the way), where understatements were compensated by the aesthetics and specific elegance of the presented world.

Under the Skin spoils the plot development a bit too late, when the heroine goes beyond her routine. I do not know Faber’s novel, which became the basis for the film – perhaps it has its book justification. In any case, a rather late transition to the next threads can cause irritation and slight disorientation in the viewer – the film lasts less than two hours, which is not long, but the action is distributed unevenly.

under the skin malformed man

Apart from this, Glazer’s film is a very good picture – atmospheric, stylistically refined, worth recommending not only because of the form, but also because of the original idea. A simple and clear plot structure allows you to feel the atmosphere of Scotland at night, and Scarlett Johansson’s subdued and nuanced acting completes the whole original work, worthy of a screening in a dark room. Under the skin requires a pinch of trust from the viewer, it is worth paying attention to.


Jan DÄ…browski

Self-proclaimed Cronenbergologist, blogger, editor, connoisseur of good coffee, and lover of insects.

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