Whenever one watches a weird film, one needs to ask themselves whether it is, in fact, “too weird”? Is it something dense, uninviting, and worthy of thought & reflection? Or on the other hand, is it just “weird for the sake of weird”?
I’m not sure where Jonathan Glazer’s new film UNDER THE SKIN is the former or the latter, but I do know that it will prove to be a test for anybody who dares try to dig in.
The synopsis of the film is somewhat unclear, so take all of what I’m about to say with a grain or two of salt.
The story centres on a woman IMDb identifies as Laura (Scarlett Johansson). Laura starts out the film by taking on the shape and persona of an identical woman who is pulled out a gutter at the outset of the film. Once in her new form, she drives around the roads of Scotland, enticing men to get into her van. Once she has them, and she talks them into going to her place for some fun, she leads them into a trap – a trap that will cost them their lives.
UNDER THE SKIN feels, at times, like it is deliberately trying to be obtuse. It spends long stretches in the shadows, often has conversations with characters facing away from us, and spends long stretches just watching Laura roam around without much motivation. It’s the sort of film that people walk out on (and many did), or that many turn off the blu-ray after twenty minutes (and many will). From beginning to end, it has no interest in explaining itself, and it’s left up to the viewer to decide if it is being aloof or mysterious.
For me, I found myself somewhere in between. I became fascinated by some of the gender role-reversal that comes with Laura stalking her victims, and some of the handsome visuals that we witness along the way. However, there were also a handful of key plot points that were unclear to me…plot points which seemed to be turning points in Laura’s journey.
All of this uncertainty, aloofness, and obtuseness leads me to wonder whether or not to describe this film as “good”. I’ll admit, I was interested and certainly challenged. More than once, I found myself marvelling at some handsome shots. However, when you put all of that together, it doesn’t feel like it justifies the cost of admission. I’m not happy to say that I got through UNDER THE SKIN, nor do I regret my time with it. I might revisit it down the road to get a firmer grasp on it, or I might forget it entirely.
Make of that what you will.