Film Review: Under The Skin
It’s weird because I don’t have a lot to say about this film. I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked it or not. I don’t know if it’s the kind of film you’re supposed to enjoy, or simply appreciate.
Under The Skin is an arty film, that’s for sure; stylistically, there are plenty of valuable attributes. A key element is silence. There is hardly any dialogue at all, and what we do hear are the vague mumbles from Glaswegians passing by, and the seductive undertones of the alien’s humanoid voice.
The rest of the background noise is from the alien’s surroundings as she explores Glasgow: the laughter and chatter of the people, the crashing waves against the shore, the hooting vehicles on the crowded roads… When I came home from the cinema, I noticed how alone I was, and every sound I created made me feel like I was in my own silent film. I suddenly became very aware of my actions, and although it gave me a sense of peace and perhaps mindfulness, I could only think back to the disturbing film I had just watched.
The music is minimal, but makes a big impact on the atmosphere conveyed. I only picked up on two pieces of music. One consists of a steady gong-like pattern, which is used when the alien lures naked men into her black, viscous void. It mirrors the slow, even paces of the characters, and yet your heartbeat can’t help but exceed the tempo as you anticipate the victims’ fate. The second piece of music is composed of scratchy violin sounds. The high-pitched, short, sharp sounds have the effect of your spine tingling and your head spinning simultaneously. So, so creepy.
The contrast of light and darkness is evidently an extremely important component of this film.
- Right at the start, you are left to watch a blinding white pinpoint of light race towards you through a black vacuum, accompanied by the ‘scratchy violin music’.
- The second scene involves the alien undressing a dead woman and taking the clothes for herself. This takes place in an illuminated, endless-looking white space, and the two women are just black silhouettes against the backdrop.
- The ‘viscous void’ I refer to is inky black and ominous, framed by a black studio-like room. Light is only shone on the naked bodies, to separate them from their surroundings, and it is unclear where the light is coming from.
- Most of the film is set in dark places. The brightest parts are at the beginning, in the scene mentioned above, and at the end, when there is snow falling from a milky sky. This brings about a sense of wonder, in my opinion.
- The alien’s eyes are dark. There is some fixation on her eyes, and I couldn’t quite work out what the meaning of it was. I just know that the darkness of the pupils has some relevance and symbolism that shouldn’t be ignored.
This is not some typical sci-fi film where an alien race invades Earth and tries to take over the planet. This is about one alien’s (ambiguous) mission, and it is very profound. I have to describe the intense moments, not because I want to give away spoilers but because I just can’t get these moments out of my head. They are more than unsettling images. It’s not to do with nudity or stranger danger; it’s the Under The Skin part!
I can’t tell you how much the body deflation under the ‘viscous void’ freaked me out. Watching the men’s bodies shrivel up into thin, hollow, latex sacks was enough to make me feel sick. When the insides of the bodies were churned down some kind of sewage shoot, with the ‘scratchy violin music’ dubbed over it, I couldn’t help but squirm in my seat. I had to hold in my tummy to make sure that everything stayed where it was (it’s a psychological thing that I fear bodily harm from fiction could occur to me at any given moment).
The other instance I want to talk about was the final scene. So the alien is being raped; the man is disgusted by her and flees; she stands up to reveal black patches on her back; she kneels down and peels off her head, as well as at least half of her abdomen; she exposes the black, anorexic creature that she is inside Scarlett Johansson’s skin and holds her human head in her hands; the man comes back and pours paraffin over her before setting her alight; she runs helplessly out of the forest and into a snowy field, and is left to burn; fire consumes her and a thick, black smoke rises into the pure white sky; and that’s how the film ends. I mean, firstly: WHAT?! What did I just watch? The alien is left to burn into an inter-galactic ash. I don’t understand the director’s message here. Are we supposed to learn something about consequences of interfering with others’ lives, maybe, or about how some tasks are just impossible? Someone help me out here, because I’m really dumb-founded.
I am completely weirded out by this film and do not necessarily recommend it, however artistic and intense it is. My friend and I can’t stop thinking about Under The Skin, and it leaves a very uneasy feeling in my gut. To be honest, I watched the trailer and did some research beforehand, and I knew just as much going into the film as I did when I came out afterwards.