Under the Skin

Posted April 18, 2014 by in


Total Score

1/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: science fiction
Director: Jonathan Glazer
MPAA Rating: R
Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: 4/18/2014 (expansion)
Studio: Film4 (presents), British Film Institute (presents), Silver Reel (in association with), Creative Scotland (in association with), FilmNation Entertainment (in association with), Nick Wechsler Productions, JW Films, Scottish Screen, UK Film Council
What We Thought

Despite Johansson’s performance, Under the Skin is alienating and excruciatingly monotonous.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
The way that Scarlett Johansson’s character in Under the Skin studies an ant on her finger, as if she’d never seen  one before, suggests that she’s somehow not of this world.  Perhaps that’s how she looks at humanity, as mere ants.
     That would explain why she murders a swimmer on a remote beach, crushing his skull with a rock.  From her alien perspective, it’s no different than stepping on an insect.
     I’m only guessing, here.  There’s no dialog in Under the Skin to explain who she is, where she comes from, how she got here, what she wants, and why she does what she does.  She’s a stranger to us, alien.
     The Alien, who looks human, drives a white van looking for a man, any man.  He must be unmarried and live alone.  She then offers him, whoever he may be, a lift back to his own place for anonymous sex.  And that’s when things get weird.
     When they enter his residence, the background fades out.  They walk through infinite blackness, undressing themselves as they go.  The Alien walks across a perfect surface, which mirrors her reflection, while the man walks as if stepping into an ocean, an abyss from which he never emerges.
     The score during these scenes is seductive, sinister.  The slow beating of primal drums suggests the oldest ritual of life, the mating ritual.
     This same scene is repeated three more times, once beat-for-beat.  It’s excruciatingly monotonous.  A third iteration suggests the fate of all the victims:  they implode, leaving behind only their skin.  A stream of their bio-matter flows towards an artificial red light.  The final scene like this suggests it’s a dream, or dream-like, yet it’s not.
     The Alien meets a motorcyclist (Jeremy McWilliams) a few times, whom we can only guess is also an extra-terrestrial in human disguise.  They never share a word.  There is a moment where the motorcyclist stares at the Alien, and then walks away.  OK…
     Your guess is as good as mine as to what any of this means and why this is happening.  Unless you’ve read The Crimson Petal and the White, the book which Under the Skin is loosely adapted from, you’ll be just as in the dark as the Alien’s victims.  In no way does the film version stand on its own.
     Under the Skin is not without merit, though.  Any understanding we have of the Alien is from Scarlett Johansson’s performance.  Her smile disappears the moment she’s not making small talk with a potential victim; it’s a performance within a performance, which becomes more fragile and vulnerable—more human—as the film goes on.
     It is not, however, enough to redeem the film from how deliberately alienating it is.  Because the story denies us the slightest bit of exposition, we have no idea what’s going on and why.  Because it doesn’t work on a literal level, it doesn’t work figuratively; it’s gibberish both ways.  Any meaning is entirely inferred, a product of the viewer’s mind—Under the Skin is not a statement.  It is an empty exercise in style over substance, as empty as the void of its pseudo-dream sequences.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.



    I do not agree.It s a movie hard to like but I liked it. I believe that what is undefined is purposefully undefined.It s undefined even for the alien under Scarlett skin. She is a bait and a probe looking for anything precious we humans have for somebody above her. She knows only the essential to to go her mission: to drive , to speak and to lure quarries. Other than this, she is as stupid as we are about the mistery (and misery) of our own lives over this planet. The guy with the moto is perhaps kind of controller who guesses she is becoming “human” and unuseful lookingfor neitralize or kill her.The movie is a metaphor for our condition and our relation with our misterious existense or our indiferent gods. If the movie lacks sense is because humanity lacks sense too.


    Guedo Gallet again.When I wrote the words above, I didn t know there was a book behind the movie.The book explains the alien s reasons to do what she does.I will try to read it, but I believe the movie is more interesting: some beings using humans as food is old as H G Wells morlocks or Swift solution for famine or this old Charlton Heston s picture or vampires or …plenty of exemples.In the movie, this is not exatly clear and our imagination goes weird.Better. I think it is interesting to note that a human tries to rape her with obvious violence .This same human discovers is disguise and kills her with gasoline and fire, knowing nothing about what she is. From his point of view, he killed a black strange woman (or a alien) with no reason at all besides his automatic cruelty.Now, WHO is evil in this story? WHO deserves what? Again, the movie talks about humans (what is exactly HUMAN?).

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