Under the Skin


  • Under the SkinVisually stunning, atmospherically enchanting and thematically thought-provoking, Under the Skin is an excellent film.
  • Not least because writer/director Jonathon Glazer and co-writer Walter Campbell use compelling scenes to analyze what it means to be human, with all of our species’ foibles and merits. They do not tell us anything. And, impressively, they don’t need to.
  • In so doing, they ensure every moment of this movie is worthwhile.
  • Scarlett Johansson’s (an unnamed woman) lead performance is positively terrific. She makes her character simultaneously seductive, innocent and wicked.
  • Glazer’s decision to film actual conversations between Johansson and real-life strangers, who are amateur actors initially unaware they are being filmed, is inspired. These scenes cement Under the Skin’s existential themes at the same time they fuel understanding of the picture’s science fiction.
  • The director’s visuals are even better. He makes Scotland look majestic but also mysterious.
  • His audio is similarly amazing. The audience hears the world as Johansson’s character does.
  • The film’s final moments are excellent, both because they form an appropriate conclusion, and because they are surprisingly emotional. It is sure to be one of the best endings of 2014.
  • Just as it could be one of the best movies.
  • Even if it isn’t quite perfect. At one point, we meet a male lumberjack; he works well as an allegory, but less well as a character. Ditto that for the man Johansson meets while riding a bus.
  • I don’t want to pay much attention to Under the Skin’s flaws, however, because doing so would produce the wrong impression.
  • The missteps are so minor as to be almost absent.
  • And the merits are borderline overwhelming.
  • Final Grade: A

32 thoughts on “Under the Skin

  1. Yay! I hoped it would be great, heard it was great, and now I believe it. Can’t wait to watch it–most likely will be in many top 10 great films of 2014 lists. Good for Glazer and Johansson. They are on a roll. 🙂

  2. Excellent, glad you enjoyed this! I thought it was excellent – different to anything else I’ve seen recently and the atmosphere created by all is well-realised.

  3. Great review Josh! WOW you got me real curious to check this one out soon! “…compelling scenes to analyze what it means to be human” I LOVE sci-fi that does this well, in fact that’s one of the reasons I love this genre because it explores our humanity from an *outsider* point of view, in this case an alien. There’s a Scottish actor here that was in a Ken Loach film Angel’s Share, I’m curious to see how he does here. As for Scarlett, I wonder if her performance would be considered come award season, the movie doesn’t seem to be the type that the Academy usually goes for tho.

    • Agreed on the Academy. I doubt they will acknowledge this one all that much. Maybe the writing, but probably not much else. I’d be surprised if she fails to get recognition for other awards, though; maybe the Globes. Maybe SAG. Probably the Spirit Awards. And who knows what else?

      And this really is terrific Sci-Fi. Though I think it’s a real mistake that the marketing folks spoiled the fact that she’s an alien. You’ll notice my review doesn’t directly say as such. That was a deliberate choice on my part. Glazer’s narrative never explains what she is, not until the very end. Instead it builds clues incredibly skillfully. Until about two thirds of the way through, the uninformed viewer would be theorizing what’s going on. Two thirds into it, they would be more certain. And at the very end, their certainty would be rewarded with a “I knew that” moment. It’s genius storytelling. Except that all marketing materials explicitly spoil it.

      That’s a long way of saying … I wish I hadn’t known in advance. 🙂

    • Completely agreed. It is slow, but slow in a way that couldn’t be more interesting.

      I just wish the marketing department hasn’t spoiled the reveal that the lead character is an alien.

  4. Such a unique movie, I agree the filmmakers make Scotland look majestic. I like your take on the sound “The audience hears the world as Johansson’s character does.” . The sound-fragments could be like an alien language.

  5. Difficult to describe this one without getting overly pretentious or up on a soapbox over how great this minimalist and exquisitely abstract film is. I seriously haven’t seen Scarlett Johansson this good. Ever. And she’s one of my favorite actresses. Mostly b/c of how well she compensates for how beautiful a woman she is.

    Under the Skin is poised towards the top of my list methinks. Excellent review Josh. So glad to see we are in sync on this one

    • It is very near the top of my list, too. I think it sits in my current Top 5. And would guess, especially at my current of movie-viewing (which is to say none at all) that it has a good chance of staying the Top 10 come year end.

    • My pace slowed way down once September hit, so I didn’t see most of the Top of the Year contenders. But of the sixty some I saw before September, this was in a dead heat with Snowpiercer for my favorite of the year.

      It is so well directed, equally well acted and beautifully scripted. Just an excellent film.

  6. Good review! This movie was great. It had very little budget. I think this movie is amazing in the way it creates a sense of loneliness and disconnectedness. It’s not accidental that Scarlett plays an alien with an American accent in cold and wintry Glasgow, Scotland.

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