I was recently reminded, (in a rather cruel way) of how engaging and meaningful the ideas of the science-fiction genre are. When most Hollywood movies seem to be a remake or a comic book, we can often look to sci-fi for the fantastically visual and cerebrally interesting.
Case in point: the new Jonathan Glazer film Under the Skin. It is optically wonderful as well as meditative and desolate (both visually and emotionally). There are some uncomfortable moments that are not visceral but situational. Scarlett Johansson, taking a break from the blockbusters, plays the alien man-stalker. She tries to pick up single men in order to take them to a dark place where some mystical alien goo engulfs them. But things change and roles are reversed. That’s pretty much the movie….
Except of course for how it feels. Lonely, desolate, and alien, Under the Skin has the pacing of an 60’s art-house film, and the creepiness of a Twilight Zone episode. The sound design is fantastic, and probably responsible for a large part of the uneasiness rampant in this film. Glazer has a style of his own (that certainly owes something to Kubrick, Lynch, and even Antonioni). It is a singular film experience and one I would wholeheartedly recommend.
But when thinking back to the merits of the sci-fi genre; the most impressive factor of Under the Skin is that it appears to be emotive-based science fiction as opposed to idea-based science fiction. Nothing is revealed to us about this alien huntress, we as viewers are left to experience our world through her. One of the most revealing scenes is when the protagonist gets utterly distorted in that crucible of late-20th century labyrinths: the mall. This alien can do few things well in this world She has trouble talking to the men she hunts and no sense of working human groups and relationships. One sci-fi trademark notably absent from this film is any sort of advanced technology. It is alluded to, but only by circles, colors and sounds. Instead the movie relies on an impressionistic palette of displacement and isolation.
Highly discuss-able and visually stunning, Under the Skin, is a fantastic cinematic anomaly, as well as another promising step on the continuously interesting path for Glazer.