Monday, December 22, 2014

Skin Job

I've seen a few nominations of Under the Skin (2014) for best film of the year. I respectfully disagree.

It is a kind of science fiction art film. There is very little dialog, and no explanation - no Control Voice explaining that the last nine plans to conquer the Earth have failed, so for our tenth plan... Mostly we get Scarlett Johansson driving around Scotland in a white rape van, picking up unattached men who won't be missed. She gets them alone in a featureless black void, strips nude and watches as they sink, naked and erect, into the tarry surface of the void, possibly to feed upon them. That's not quite the whole thing - there is an oblique plot (probably), but that's close to it.

There are long meditative shots of Johansson putting on makeup, sitting in the van at night. The conversations with the men are mainly pleasantries, I think, but they have such thick Glaswegian brogues that it's hard to make anything out. The countryside is beautiful, and so is Johansson, with or without clothes. But mostly nothing happens. What does happen is a bit stale - it was a surprise to me that they went for the cliche. So they manage to surprise the viewer by being completely unoriginal.

Perhaps I'm being a little severe. The style here is something like Spirit of the Beehive - long beautiful takes, silences, unexplained occurences (or lack thereof), a subtle, barely detectable story, and some opaque but beautiful faces. But it didn't strike me the same way. My opinion - they were doing the same thing, but Beehive did it better.

Your mileage may vary of course. A lot of people like this. It is interesting enough, visually and thematically to be worth watching. But don't expect the best film of the year.

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