By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Allegedly three years on the making, Under the Skin marks the return of English Filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, better know for his musical videos and the film Sexy Beast (200) with a memorable performance by Ben Kingsley. An adaptation of Michael Faber’s same-titled novel, Under the Skin sets its atmospheric tone since the beginning, with an introduction seemingly similar (in quite a minimalist way) to Kubrick’s 2001, where Scarlett Johansson arrives from outer space to seduce and collect human bodies with an unknown purpose. If the premise seems somewhat out-dated from the sci-fi genre films of the turn of the century, Glazer has an steady narrative hand, which sets the tone for the whole rhythm of the film, constantly pulsating or vibrating in a relatively steady frequency wave which only breaks up at the end of the film.

With an interesting score and impressively worked atmospherics, one could also overlook the fact that Glazer’s noir-ish sci-fi film lacks the undertones or dynamics which would make a film like this less meandering in its atmosphere and recreation of a lonely, emptied human planet (more precisely an absent and cold Scotland), and more blunt in the development of its own ideas (human alienation, ennui, reach of human contact, etc.) However, Glazer is smart enough never to fall into cliches and make a correct use of settings where are needed: the extra-terrestrial spaces seem almost symbolic, the mere gestures of approach or reach literally sink the bodies that seek affection and destroy them, the disgust for an outer body skin is literally reflected in Johansson’s final traumatic event. The alien body inside Johansson’s skin lies in an unknown state, in a analogue recreation of Schrodinger’s experiment, where the alien’s true existence is undetermined beneath the external body until it reveals itself, like its own inner thoughts or relation with the human experience.

There are some good ideas in this fourth film by Jonathan Glazer, but none of them seem to take proper flight. What we get however, is an impeccable exercise in cinematography and scoring, like the misty-ridden scene which recalls Antonioni’s Identificazione di una donna (1982), but without the undertones that made the master’s films the canonic milestones they are today. Probably overrated, but not completely forgettable, Glazer misses by little. 

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Producers: Nick Wechsler and James Wilson
Music: Mica Levi
Cinematography: Daniel Landin
Editing: Paul Watts
Script: Walter Campbell, Michel Faber, Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
UK, 108 min, 2013