The less you know going into Under The Skin the better. The reason being that what director Jonathan Glazer has created is an often daunting, visually arresting experience that taps into a very primal fear of the unknown. Hence, go in blind.
The basic premise is Scarlett Johansson plays Laura, a woman who cruises the streets of Glasgow, and it’s surrounding A-roads, picking up men. But she is selective with the men she chooses; they must be alone, not on their way to meet anyone and preferably without family to worry about them should they go missing. And missing they do go, for Laura is a predator, relying on her natural beauty and guile to seduce men into a horrifying and disturbing trap.
Stripping Michel Faber’s source novel down to the barest of bones, Under The Skin is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin. It worms its way, immediately and uncomfortably, beneath your skin where it sits, slowly eating into your subconscious before it envelopes you completely.
If Nicolas Roeg and David Lynch were to get together and somehow splice their filmic DNA together, Under The Skin would be the resultant bastard offspring. The montage editing impacts like a fist to the face while the oppressive visuals conjure a sense of nightmarish realism, like a cheese-fuelled sleep that threatens to break free of the screen and encompass reality. Glazer, who has always utilised a powerful style, makes stunning use of the Scottish scenery, the weather and drizzle aiding in the ever building horror and foreboding doom at the heart of the story.
What is more, Glazer’s visual prowess is such that dialogue is almost mute. What words are spoken are negligible compared to the importance of the sound design and score that never rest in aiding the film’s sense of mounting fear. Like the work of Lynch, Under The Skin fills you with terror, the kind that has you not checking behind doors but looking at your reflection to see if you are still you or not.
Johansson excels in the near silent role of Laura. Bringing a morbid curiosity to the part she slinks through the film, gazing upon her victims with a sense of wonder and almost pity.
If there is a fault to be found it’s that by focusing solely on the premise of Faber’s novel much of the thematic importance is left behind. It means that those new to the story may find it all a little too ambiguous while fans of the book will perhaps miss Laura’s alienation from the worlds she inhabits. The closing images though are enough to leave you a quivering wreck such are their quiet, menacing unveiling.
Sinister, chilling and with images that will leave an indelible mark on your imagination, Under The Skin will shock you into submission and remain in your thoughts like a splinter in the mind.