As Jonathan Glazer (the director behind the brilliant Sexy Beast)’s first film in nine years, I had some high expectations. Adapted from Michel Faber’s novel of the same name, Under the Skin has been so divisive among critics that it was apparently both booed and cheered at the Venice Film Festival.
Well, add me to the booing camp. To be fair, Scarlett Johansson turns in a strong and complex performance, but even that can’t help a movie that lacks any discernible plot. While I haven’t read the original book, I’ve heard via others that much of the main character (an alien temptress who kidnaps hitchhikers and leads them to their doom)’s motivation was left out of the movie, which actually explains a lot. The visuals are intriguing, and the Scottish landscape is stunning, but they’re not enough to stand alone without a strong story or more reason to care about the characters.
And, no, Johansson looking hot as always in various states of undress isn’t sufficient reason in my book. For example, it’d be nice to know why she’s leading these guys to what one can only assume is their untimely deaths. There’s also a random motorcyclist that drops in every so often, but we never find out who he is or what he’s doing. And then, at the end of the film (don’t worry, no spoilers here… you can’t spoil the ending of a non-story), the alien suddenly peels off her skin and holds her decapitated head in her hands after an attempted rape.
Under the Skin comes off as a self-indulgent film that will be applauded by self-indulgent critics. Meanwhile, the masses will show up (or more likely illegally stream the film) to see Johansson naked. I know most film writers are men, but the tired tradition of a pretentious male ‘creative’ exploiting the body of a young woman is anything but “iconic.”
Under the Skin will have its final TIFF screening this Sunday, September 15 at 3 p.m. at the Ryerson Theatre.
Sabrina Maddeaux is Toronto Standard’s managing editor. Follow her on Twitter at @sabrinamaddeaux.