On Scotland’s lonely back roads, a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) stalks unwitting men. Her identity and her motives unclear, she is simply, and quite literally, a sexual threat.
There’s a thing in cinema that most people are aware of on some level usually referred to as the 3 Act Story Structure. While not following it literally – although, some films do – the majority of successful films follow tenants of the structure; there’s a reason it’s so well known and followed, after all, and that’s because it makes for a rewarding cinema experience. It takes true innovation and the odd spot of genius to successfully deviate, and it is a brave director who does so.
Under the Skin, from Director Jonathan Glazer, adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Faber, is one such attempt, and any criticism I levy at it has to be seen through this lens. I – for all my pretentious – enjoy the 3 Act Story Structure.
And so, to the film.
The film starts with some intriguing visual effects; a tiny point of light which very slowly and silently expands to encompass the screen, almost leading you to think that the film has yet to begin until suddenly it is all you see. It makes for a confusing few opening minutes, a little bit like the ending to 2001.
A motor cyclist recovers a dead body from a swamp on the outskirts of a town. More visual effects.
An unnamed woman (Johansonn) trawls the back streets of Scotland in her van, occasionally asking for directions from men on their own. Through conversation, we quickly begin to understand the kind of man she is looking for; coming from and going nowhere, people who will not be missed. She subtly seduces them, and then;
This is where the comments regarding the 3 Act Story Structure becomes relevant; usually, once lured to a secluded location with the promise of sex, the men are immersed in some kind of strange black goop and never heard from again. I’m not entirely sure if this is some advance metaphor about what it’s like to be a single woman? It’s not actually until the final twenty minutes of the hundred-and-eight minute film that we really understand any of the character development / backstory / motives of our protagonist, and personally, it was very hard to stay connected.
Don’t get me wrong, when that final twenty comes around you will have cause to produce a vocal “what!?”, and I can see that it would throw sharp light on future viewings of the film, but it didn’t work for me. Again, though, it really says a lot more about my tastes than the quality of the film. Having not seen any of Glazer’s other work, or read the novel, I can appreciate that maybe this film just isn’t aimed at me.
You see copious amounts of Scarlett Johansonn, which is not to be shrugged at.
The special effects are amazing.
The score is fantastic, and goes a long way to add to the already steadily building suspense.
Go back and consider the opening quote, which is from the advertising for the film. I can’t really say more about the plot without “spoiling” it. Watch the trailer, and if you feel intrigued, I do really encourage you to go and see it.
“Under the Skin” opens on the 29th, and is EXCLUSIVE to the Nova.