Glazer gets ‘Under the Skin’

You’re not sure what you’re seeing in the opening sequence of Jonathan Glazer’s experimental sci-fi film “Under the Skin.”

There’s a bright light in the distance orbiting around something circular, but it takes a while for your eyes to adjust — until you finally see. The dark dilated pupil narrows, revealing Scarlett Johansson’s hazel iris.

That title sequence mirrors your experience of Glazer’s esoteric film.  If you haven’t read Michel Faber’s first full-length novel — which the film is loosely based on, the initial images in “Under the Skin” feel even more foreign and disjointed.

You see the silhouette of an attractive woman with short dark hair (played by Johansson). She’s bending over a body, picking up a praying mantis on her fingertip. She picks up men with the same curious intensity, driving a massive white van across Scotland and England.

“Why Scotland?” she asks a Czech Republic man she finds surfing.

“Because it’s nowhere,” he answers.

In writing this screenplay, Glazer and Walter Campbell skillfully draw upon the poetry of other myths.

He’s nowhere — like the sailor lost at sea. She’s the screeching lullabies of a siren — or the bright lighthouse in Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” She the Kelpie, luring men to their watery graves. Or the praying mantis — feasting on prey three times her size.

This is reinforced by Daniel Landin’s incredible cinematography and Paul Watt’s film editing.

We see the short staccatos of a throng of women, clubbing to pulsating lights and music. We see bright colored lights and abstract imagery, keeping us drugged and sedated.

The steady booms, the high pitched screeching, the screaming gulls and the crashing waves of composer Mica Levi’s dissonant score create an atmospheric dance over this mating ritual. This dance is as grotesque as Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

At least that’s what we see — at first. Glazer’s film starts off as an interesting social experiment, showing us that a pretty face can seduce anyone.

But Glazer’s beautiful 108-minute film gets under your skin, leaving you feeling sort of sad and empty.

“Under the Skin” was directed by British director Jonathan Glazer and written by Glazer and Campbell, based on Michel Faber’s novel. 

 

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