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Under the Skin (2013)

CRUMBLIES…4 crumblies

This may be terrific. Or it may be terrible. It’s certainly a touch pretentious, but, by gum, it’s a brave thing with brave performances. Not least because it has Scarlett Johansson chatting up Glaswegians from a van. Young Steve was keen for me to see it, albeit the thing doesn’t make many points about age, it certainly shows off the limitations of men, masculinity and the exact point our brains stop working. Which –  for the heteros – is at the curvy, bouncy stuff and hardly Under the Skin.

So, the beginning is arty-farty and a long way from accessible. Eerie titles become shapes, possibly planets, almost certainly a teacup, eventually Johansson’s eye. Really. And then we get to know her and her dazed, blank-faced pursuit of boys. Which is all well and good. As a senior gent, this feels like an horrific insight into the latest generation’s mating habits. Beautiful girl turns up, opens her van window, clicks her fingers, then takes hapless youth back to her shiny personal space where the floor eats them. Cos…alien!

Now. Nutso Nora spotted gentlemen’s aroused members in the devouring scenes. Yup, aroused members, as they said in the Army sex training (before a solid hour on intimate warts for Pustulating Virgin Soldiers). She was delighted. Old Jack here was…disturbed by the number of times she rewound the scenes just to be sure. It made the courage of those involved – admittedly they were following Johanasson in her pants – remarkable.

So…here we have simple lads pulled to their deaths by brave old chats filmed with hidden cameras (it says here). And, crikey, that must have been scary for Johansson. But then she goes too far (and that’s after some horrible child abandonment and a swift murder on a beach)…

Her alien, credited as The Female, teases the shiest of the shy: Adam Pearson, real-life campaigner, documentary man and neurofibromatosis type I bearer as The Deformed Man. The blank-faced performance of Johansson, chilling in its simplicity, meets its match here, and she is broken into by humanity. There’s a touching moment – indeed, a moment of touching – when everything in Under the Skin comes into oblique focus (oh yes). Unseen, for such is the nature of skin, transference happens…

And then the film gets really interesting. Men have been shown to be something simple, but not so under the skin. Deformity has been shown to be an easy focus, but not so under the skin. And so – albeit with a dash of exhausting realité – Under the Skin has been shown to be a thing of pursuit and special effects, but not so once humanity makes the alien shiver and fear things.

The rest of the film isn’t really a surprise. She connects in a weird few moments: The Deformed Man, falling flat on her face in the street and (hidden cameras again) getting help from passsers-by, and thence some final awfulness in some very Scottish woods. Really horrible awfulness, which shows the worst kind of man doing the worst kind of things.

Not a laugh in sight, by the way. This is an artsy, Woman Who Fell To Earth kind of film, with shrieking-stabbing music, muted colours and a naturalistic alien performance at its core that is resentably entrancing. Johansson is splendid, and very very brave in her choices. Jonathan Glazer is her director and you can feel the trust there.

Watch this if you’re feeling a bit earnest, focused and also very earnest.



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