Sunday, 20 July 2014

NZIFF Film Review: "Under the Skin" (2013).

For my second entry for the NZIFF, I have watched the visually haunting and uncompromising thriller Under the Skin. Robbie Collin, of The Telegraph, said "This astonishing film will leave you at once entranced and terrified..." Which is exactly what this British-American science fiction art film, directed by Jonathan Glazer, somewhat delivers. It was adapted by Glazer and Walter Campbell as a loose adaptation of Michel Faber's 2000 novel of the same name. Set in northern Scotland, it traces an extraterrestrial who, manifesting in human form, as a mysterious woman drives around the Scottish countryside and seduces lonely men in the evening hours. Whom later she drugs and delivers to her home planet. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.

Under the Skin is a 2000 surrealist novel by Michel Faber. The novel, which was Faber's debut, was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread Award. Director Jonathan Glazer decided to adapt Michel Faber's novel Under the Skin after finishing his debut film Sexy Beast (2001), but work did not begin until he had finished his second film, Birth (2004). He and cowriter Walter Campbell initially produced a script about two aliens disguised as farmers, with Brad Pitt cast as the husband, but progress was slow. Glazer eventually decided to make a film that represented an alien perspective of the human world and focused only on the female character.

The film stars Scarlett Johansson as the alien seductress who preys on men in Scotland. Johansson gave a powerful performance, but I fear that her entire performance would be diminished without the enthralling imagery to underscore it. Most of the characters were played by non-actors; many of the scenes where Johansson's character picks up men were unscripted conversations with men on the street filmed with hidden cameras. Glazer said the men were "talked through what extremes they would have to go to if they agreed to take part in the film once they understood what we were doing." For the man with neurofibromatosis, Glazer did not want to use prosthetics; to cast the role, the production team contacted the charity Changing Faces, which supports people with facial disfigurements. The role went to Adam Pearson, who had worked in television production; his suggestions about how Johansson's character could lure his character were used in the script.

In Under the Skin, Johansson is splendid as the inhuman heroine, but it is always Mr. Glazer's film, which is even technically more interesting than his last work. Among other devices, Glazer constantly uses what I assume to be a live hidden camera to capture and distort the narrative and character relationships within scenes, so that the disconnection between lives, and between people and environment, becomes an actual, literal fact. However, the film seems to be pornographic because of how it dehumanized the victims while highlighting the sufferings of Johansson. Ultimately, Glazer is a bad pornographer. In the end, the most ambitious effects were based on the alienating effect of Johansson’s character towards the audience, making it a poor choice for a film. It is also a film that doesn't exactly get under my skin, just on my nerves.

Simon says Under the Skin receives:

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