Wednesday, 25 June 2014

UNDER THE SKIN - Review By Greg Klymkiw


Under the Skin (2013) *
Dir. Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The cerebral science fiction oddity Under the Skin stars the intolerably ubiquitous Scarlett Johansson as an alien Woman Who Fell To Earth or rather, in this case, Scotland. Her mission is to seduce a variety of Glaswegian men, take them back to her squalid digs and tempt them with her puffy white flesh. As Scarlett doffs pieces of clothing, the seemingly endless parade of gents who follow her, their eyes transfixed by Little Miss Bum-Chunks, gradually find themselves sinking feet-first into a murky, purulent, gelatinous goo that swallows them up.

In short order, this harvests their manly flesh.

Why this needs to be done is not 100% clear (or maybe I nodded off briefly when it was explained), but as this is an idiotically precious and pretentious "art" film of the worst kind, we really don't need to know the whys and wherefores of pretty much anything that's happening. All you really need to do is groove on it. The only thing worth explaining about this picture is this: After avoiding the shedding of clothing in one film after another, the corn niblets twixt Miss Johansson's ears must have been working overtime upon first reading Mr. Glazer and co-writer Walter Campbell's script in order to take in (and accept) the necessity of revealing her flesh for the keen eye of the acclaimed Sexy Beast director.

I gather we are also supposed to do some long and hard noggin scratching, too. To this I say, "Fat chance!" The real reason most fellas (and gals of the sapphic inclination) would put up with the tedium of this movie is to gaze upon the supposed glories of a starkers Miss Scarlett J. That's it! Nothing more!

I mean, really now, the first hour of this thing is almost solely devoted to Johansson driving about the streets of Glasgow, interminably picking up salivating male victims and leading them into her swimming pool of Jello Blood Pudding in an otherwise empty apartment.

There's no suspense, no sense of her as a character (at least not in the first interminable hour) and finally, unlike Nicolas Roeg's astonishing The Man Who Fell To Earth, Glazer's film feels bereft (save for its nods to self-importance) of little more than one excuse after another to display Johansson's naked flesh. For some, that might be quite enough and to that I say, "Who am I to deny anyone from deriving pleasure from a nude Scarlett Johansson?"

Alas, for me, 'twas not quite enough, especially since the second half of the movie is devoted to Johansson's non-charaacter vaguely becoming one after all. She finally begins to understand that being human is to experience a wide range of feelings. She comes to recognize the notion of compassion within herself and hence - UGH! - humanity, just as she also comes to understand the flip side of human existence, cruelty.

Well, isn't that profound? It takes close to two hours to learn this. If you don't mind getting a sore ass, I suppose you'll be granted some edification.

Look, Glazer has proven to be an intelligent filmmaker with previous work and even this movie is chock full of fine, considered imagery which is more than enough to recognize he's clearly attempting to generate something that's completely off the beaten track. Part of me wants to like the fact that he's more interested in a real science fiction film rather than the noisy, bone-headed crap with endless explosions and gunplay that passes for science fiction these days. Glazer's aim is true, but he never connects with the target - whatever it's supposed to be. His desire to create an intelligent, quiet dystopian science fiction movie in the tradition of Nicolas Roeg, fizzles. The film is so utterly dreadful that it's not even a matter of Glazer being in "close, but no cigar" territory, but rather, he inhabits a spot on the opposite end of the world from the grand tobacco fields and cigar factories of Havana.

There's also an extremely disturbing sexual assault and murder in the film which, while not meant to be prurient, has an inadvertent whiff of exploitation only insofar as this is one of those movies trying so hard to be profound, that its crashing failure in that respect renders all of Johansson's nudity and the shockingly unexpected violation to be all for naught. All that's left is a twisted salaciousness for those so inclined and/or for all the pseuds stupid enough to buy into the film's jackhammer thematics and hoary qualities of the cerebral, a reason to indulge in the exploitative qualities without feeling bad about it. I think I might hate that most of all.

You might wonder if I believe art and exploitation can't co-exist. Well sure they can. Lord knows the Soska Twins (American Mary), the Astron-6 collective (Father's Day), Brian De Palma, Roger Corman, etc. have proven otherwise, but their films are actually good.

Under the Skin plays in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas via Mongrel Media. It's in similar limited release across the rest of the globe.