Under The Skin goes through the marrow at Coolidge Corner

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The pied piper is a tale as old as time, and Scarlett Johansson embodies that role to a new extreme in Johnathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. Based of the Michel Farber novel, Johansson portrays a would- be succubus of sorts, devoid of any signifiers to give her a personified identity; truly alien to our world. Her sole purpose is to lure men back to her abode to a mysterious fate, that includes the absolute harvesting of their organs.

The film’s texture is largely sleek and dark, which I believe is due in part to cinematographer Daniel Landin and Glazer’s prior commercial work and his endeavors with music videos.

After viewing the film, I was reminded of two very distinct films that both have characters journey through a similar desolation. Those films are Day Night Day Night and The Thing. Two very different films but ones that encapsulate elements presented.

Not to say that the film is not original – the film is most definitely its own beast. Submerging the audience in Johansen’s routine, just as transversed as the every day mundanity; we watch this wolf in mink clothing start to develop. One great almost nod to the Dogme-95 style is the use of hidden camera with most of the men that Johansen interacts with actually being unsuspecting Scottish citizens.

Photo courtesy of A24 Films

The film is low on dialogue and has polarized audiences but those are two things that will work in favor of it. The film is presented almost as an art house, video nasty with the tumultuous cycle of ScarJo using her sexual prowess as the most deadly of a weapon.

It is a retrospective for those that love genre pieces but all the while trying to open up all the doors of what cinema can be. Most reviews of the film spoil the mechanics of the film, but it is imperative to understand that when she chooses not to slay a man on the sheer fact that he suffers from neurofibromatosis, the elephant man disease, she starts a voyage on an existential escapism that is ultimately her undoing.

ScarJo develops these feelings amongst the myriad of moralistic mud that had saturated most of the film. The film swings from the lucid horror that we have voyeuristically taken part in, to a “coming-of-(r)age” story.

Luckily, both Glazer and producer James Wilson were on hand to discuss their existential, pseudo-feminism, sci-fi brooding. Glazer had been introduced to the novel by Wilson who “enjoyed it very much, and I was shocked by the perspective, seeing it through her eyes.”  He went on to say that “finding vocabulary to translate on screen, along with other variables was the tough part.”

He noted that the book had more developed character identities and a more gruesome fate which makes the story a “vegetarian horror film, on factory farming.”  Glazer went on to explain that his “commercial work was an art experiment that was testing the whole hidden camera system.”

Of the many scenarios filming the random johns in Scotland, Glazer and Wilson said they did not encounter many people that would recognize ScarJo and that they were “trying to create a distance between her and everyone.

The also undeniable connection between Johansson playing an extraterrestrial concubine here and artificial intelligence in Her that develop human emotions was brought up but Glazer, was actually called upon by Spike Jonze about using Johansson in Her.

The other big thing for the film was the fact that no one wanted this to be known as the film where Scarlett decided to go nude, but Glazer reassured that it is natural  and that “she starts to believe that she is in her own skin and it’s just natural exploration.” That it is all about “a human awakening, not a gender one.”

He remarked that enjoyed a Village Voice reviewers idea that “She doesn’t suffer from penis envy, but rather soul envy.”

I guess you could say it is a cautionary tale, about the human and film experience. Under The Skin opened up in New york and Los Angles on the April 4 and it will get a wider release on April 11.

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