If there is one lesson to be learned from “Under the Skin,” the new alien seductress from “Sexy Beast” director Jonathan Glazer, it is, Don’t get in a car with strangers even if they look like Scarlett Johansson. She may play the Black Widow in the Avengers series, but here she is literally the black widow.
The film begins with an homage to Stanley Kubrick, an austere sci fi set up that suggests an alien making their way to Earth. To Scotland to be exact. The nameless creature, who assumes Johansson’s form, spends much of the time exerting her siren’s call on unsuspecting men. She lures them into her van, then to her home, where they disappear into an inky goo, never to take another breath.
She’s a newcomer on a mysterious mission, still figuring out human emotions, but in tune enough to use her sexuality to entrap unsuspecting men. After an encounter with a disabled man she takes her first tentative steps toward humanity.
Every now and again a film comes along with little or no regard for the conventions of traditional storytelling. “Under the Skin” is one of those movies.
We learn next t nothing about Johansson’s character or her mission. In a surreal sequence we do learn what happens to her victims, but not why they are being harvested.
Glazier never takes the easy narrative way out. He leaves it to the audience to draw their own conclusions about everything, character and motivations included. He even clouds much of the dialogue in thick Scottish accents that are challenging unless you have Cullen Skink running in your veins. Add to that some strange inconsistencies—how is it she knows how to drive like a New York taxi cab driver but has no working knowledge of her own naughty bits?—and the story strays far into art house territory.
It’s a deliberately paced film that never met a pause—I would say dramatic pause, but there is very little drama to be had here—it didn’t embrace.
At the center of it all is Johansson in a deceptively demanding role. She appears to be doing very little, but conveys a heady blend of innocence and sexuality that brings this otherworldly creature to life. Think “The Man Who Fell to Earth’s” Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) with red lipstick and more curves and you get the idea.
“Under the Skin” won’t be for everybody. It deliberately challenges the audience, almost daring them to stay along for the ride, but those brave enough to take the journey will be rewarded with a story that takes a sly look at human identity filtered through the guise of an alien.