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Under the Skin


Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hadek, Roy Armstrong, Alison Chand, Ben Mills, Oscar Mills, Lee Fanning, Paul Brannigan, Marius Bincu, Scott Dymond, Stephen Horn, Adam Pearson, May Mewes, Michael Moreland, Gerry Goodfellow, Dave Acton, Jessica Mance

Director: Jonathan Glazer

An extraterrestrial arrives on Earth, takes human form and then proceeds to dine on luckless earthlings.

If the storyline seems familiar, that’s hardly surprising.

That plot or variations on it served as the frequent basis for routine 1950s B feature science fiction thrillers, most which at least had the merit of unpretentiousness and relatively short running times as required by their second feature status.

When director Jonathan Glazer’s wearisome, deeply pretentious riff on an already hackneyed theme finally ended, it seemed to be to have been on screen for several months. In fact, it had been only 108 minutes long, thus perfectly proving Albert Einstein’s explanation of his Theory of Relativity “When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity”.

Which, for me, faultlessly sums up my experience of sitting through Under the Skin.

Glazer wrote the screenplay with Walter Campbell, based on the novel by Michel Faber: fortunately for Faber. Glazer states, “We left the book behind a long time ago. There is definitely the residue of the narrative from the book: but now it’s expressed in different ways”.

I admit I haven’t read Faber’s novel.

Which is fine by me since I am reviewing the film, whose mannered screenplay and direction scream out for it to be considered an art movie rather than simply an irritatingly pretentious collection of long-established B feature science fiction tropes and clichés.

Ironically, Glazer has also followed yet another hallowed British B film tradition by hiring a Hollywood actress as his lead, presumably hoping to attract an audience, particularly in the United States.

Here Scarlett Johansson is the imported American who, disguised with a black wig and an English accent, drives around Scotland in a van using her visual assets to lure Scotsmen into joining her and then ultimately becoming her dinner.

Dialogue is sparse, watchable drama even sparser and one is left feeling sorry for the Scots who end up naked before being eaten – and even sorrier for audiences faced with watching the film.

Johansson totally lacks charisma this time around.

She pouts and poses instead of creating a credible character as either alien or human. And it was a major mistake on her part to appear naked on screen rather too often and also to allow Glazer’s cameras to follow her wearing too tight jeans since (and yes, it might simply be that cameras allegedly add pounds to their subject) she would have been well advised to diet prior to filming.

Deliberately muddy cinematography (Daniel Landin), too often the narrative pace of an arthritic snail and far too many scenes where nothing of interest occurs marks an emaciated story delivered with enough pretension to have its director hailed as an auteur which, since I derived little else from his film apart from terminal tedium, I assume was his target from frame one.

If the tsunami of sycophantic reviews of Under the Skin is to believed, then Glazer has succeeded splendidly.

Given its patently obvious art movie pretensions, it’s almost as obvious that the film was part funded with lottery money and also by Channel 4 television.

My advice (unless you are an insomniac desperately seeking slumber) is to wait for the film to be screened on Channel 4. That way you will be able to change channels in an instant.

Alan Frank

UK 2013. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour by deluxe.
108 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 14 Mar 2014