A desolate urban landscape, endless, dimly-lit roads and vast open spaces form the unnerving backdrop to Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi thriller Under the Skin.
Based on Michael Faber’s 2000 novel, it tells the story of a beautiful young woman with a cut-glass English accent, played by Scarlett Johansson, who drives around the mean streets of Glasgow in a white van picking up young men, seemingly for sex. The men, who can’t quite believe their luck, happily go along with her only to be lured into a strange Danse Macabre before disappearing without a trace.
It is unclear what the woman’s motives are; we assume she is some kind of alien with no capacity for human warmth or empathy. She is working alone, seemingly in control, but there is also a sense in there are other darker forces behind her. Half way through the film, the tide changes and the predatory woman suddenly becomes the hunted.
Perhaps what makes this film so startling is the mix of the mundane with something more other worldly and disturbing. Those around the woman speak with thick Glaswegian accents and we see her in a number of everyday settings – a shopping centre, a nightclub, a housing estate but the voices around her blur into a distant hum which bear little relevance to her world. On the news we hear talk of the upcoming Scottish referendum but once again this seems eerily distant. All of this is underlined by a jarring and discordant score which creates a sense of tension and discomfort throughout.
This beautifully shot film leaves you with many unanswered questions but this is also its main strength because it lets your imagination fill in the gaps. Those expecting a straightforward narrative may want to avoid it but they’d be missing out – it is enough to simply immerse yourself in this atmospheric piece of cinema.
Under the Skin was on at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema.