Under The Skin

Art films bore me. Not artistic films like Barry Lyndon or 2001: A Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange (wait, those are all… whatever), but self important film school senior projects with long, long, overlong takes and a soundtrack that’s just human teeth falling on a xylophone, with very little dialogue and when the characters do speak they do it asynchronously like they’re having two different conversations.

Essentially, they’re just short stories stretched into novels by abandoning narrative for long shots watching the sun go down on a black lake which end with a synth sting and a smash cut to black.

The sad thing is that you can absolutely make a great, entertaining and engaging film using those techniques, but these filmmakers seem to feel that story is beneath them.

Let’s talk about four movies made in this style:

  1. Primer
  2. Upstream Color
  3. The Lobster
  4. Under The Skin

Primer’s narrative is jumbled and confusing because it’s about time travel. Upstream Color has an overwhelming soundtrack because it’s about loss of consciousness. Both of these movies tell a coherent story with lots of long shots, very little dialogue, no exposition or even explanation, and both are highly engaging. You watch them like an addict hovering over a spoon with a lighter because you don’t want to miss anything.

The Lobster, even though it does more world building than the other three, ends up in a universe free of rules and common sense which leaves it in a pile of arbitrary logic. Ultimately, after you finally get through this slog of a movie, you feel cheated because none of it made any sense.

Under The Skin is empty calories. A blank canvas you are meant to project your own story upon. We get the vague notion that ScarJo plays an alien wearing a human skin she uses to seduce men who won’t be missed and that they are deposited in a pool of black liquid to be digested and that she might be curious about humanity. That’s not a movie. That’s not even a pitch for a movie. There’s not enough there to fill one hour and forty eight minutes even if Scarlett Johansson is magnetically beautiful to watch.

She is to be commended for her commitment to this project, full frontal and all, but this movie should have run half an hour at most.

Two strange things about Under The Skin:

  1. Jonathan Glazer also directed one of my favorite films Sexy Beast. So he’s proven to be a competent, even gifted director, which means everything he did in this movie was a specific choice.
  2. The book the movie is based on actually tells a complete and complex story so there was plenty to choose from that would have help build an actual narrative suited to a movie.

So, Under the Skin and The Lobster are not recommended. If you want to watch something cinematically intense and narratively weird, go with the Shane Carruth movies Primer and Upstream Color.

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