Under the Skin (2013) — Alien on the prowl

“Do you want to look at me?”

Justin’s rating: Avengers, disassemble

Justin’s review: Most movies that most people watch are safe. When I say “safe,” I mean that they’re safe to normalcy. You understand the plot, you get the characters, you identify the tropes, and your life more or less goes on as it always has.

People like safe movies. Because there are unsafe ones out there — ones that are weird, abnormal, abstract, surreal, unconventional, and mind-bending. You wander into an unsafe movie, and you best be prepared with an exit strategy to regain sanity afterward.

Under the Skin may sound a bit like a knock-off Species — a gorgeous woman who’s actually a lethal alien looking to mate — but it’s as uncommercial as they come. Honestly, it’s more like an art piece that wants to play with your emotions more than give you a narrative to understand.

Filmed before The Avengers truly made her famous, Scarlett Johansson plays the unnamed Female, an extraterrestrial who’s assumed a human form and is on the prowl in her cargo van for isolated Scottish men. She brings them back to her apartment where they disrobe and then slowly fall into an inky black void that the Female walks on top of. Later, we see the void preserving the men for a while before sucking their innards out and leaving their skin behind.

Gradually, the Female starts to empathize with the humans that are also her prey. It’s undeniable that the Female is attracted to elements of our society, which makes it even more heartbreaking for her when her alienness makes it impossible to fully partake. And this growing conflict of interest serves to ignite some friction with her handler, a mysterious man on a motorcycle who cleans up after her abductions and participates in a few himself.

But this is me trying to coherently make sense of what is nearly two hours of an unsettling soundtrack, unexplained symbolism, and unclear meaning. Under the Skin could be commenting on a whole lot of things, or it could be simply portraying a truly alien visitor first absorbing and then identifying with the culture its visiting. I have no idea, to be honest. I’m not that smart.

If you were to press me, though, I might stammer out something regarding the title. There’s what we see with our eyes — the “skin” — and what’s actually true underneath. Sometimes there’s integrity between the two, often times not. In this film, nice-seeming guys can end up being hooligans. A severely disfigured person turns out to be a person worth getting to know. And, y’know, aliens who look like Johansson but care not one whit for you.

I can’t even decide if this is truly daring and provocative scifi or a total snooze fest. Artsy movies can be both. All I can tell you is that it’s not like the others on your Blu-Ray shelf.

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