under the skin

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Glazer

CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes


RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

SURREAL, visually obscure one second and extremely detailed the next, this film is fuzzy on the detail but heavy on the atmosphere – all in the name of making the audience focus on the human condition rather than plot.

Scarlett Johansson is an outsider trying to make sense of humanity by not only observing behaviour, but also experimenting with it. Attended by a mysterious biker (played by former Irish motorcycle racer Jeremy McWilliams) she haunts the misty Scottish Highland highways and lamplit streets of Glasgow as the ultimate vamp, an alien creature in a human skin.

Johansson is as believable when callously vicious as when curious or scared, playing a creature trying to make sense of what it means to be human and specifically, experience emotion. She has to (and does) ooze normalness to blend in.

Hiding behind a black wig, she lures unsuspecting and all too willing random men into her van, charms them, asking questions and feigns interest. (Some of the responses were totally ad libbed, seeing as the men were not cast but literally picked up by Johansson in a van rigged with hidden cameras.)

The shrilly exasperating violins scream that something bad is going to happen and it doesn’t take long before the weirdness of the opening sequence goes even more sideways.

Director Jonathan Glazer is asking the question what makes us human, what is literally under the skin. But it’s not like he answers it.

You never get under the alien’s skin and much about the film remains ambiguous at best, murky at worst, which is perhaps the point.

If you liked, Cloud Atlas or Le Congrès, you will like this.