New Look at Man-Eating Scarlett Johansson in 'Under the Skin'

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin was one of the hopefuls to show up at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It didn't. Instead it will arrive in Telluride, followed by a screening at the Venice Film Festival and then off to Toronto it goes. Suffice to say, it's taken it's sweet time getting to us.

We received our first look at Scarlett Johansson in the lead role back in May 2012 and haven't heard a peep since other than the interview Johansson gave to Variety where she discusses what she refers to as, the film's "twisted" plot.

"It's so weird," she said. "I've never been in a movie where the logline of the movie, where the plot has been so twisted. It's crazy. 'Are you eating people on the side of the road?' I'm like, 'No, no!'"

But the answer seems a little more like "Yes, yes" as she plays what is described by Toronto Film Festival Artistic Director, Cameron Bailey, as "a voracious alien seductress who scours remote highways and backroads for human prey."

Of course, it goes deeper than that. Bailey's description continues:

Fans of Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast and Birth have been anticipating Under the Skin with a yearning usually reserved for superhero franchises. Based on Michel Faber's acclaimed novel, the story's premise is perfectly suited to a director known for compression, focus, and cool shocks.

On Scotland's lonely back roads, a beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) stalks unwitting men. Her identity and her motives unclear, she is simply, and quite literally, a sexual threat. Her eyes deadened but alert, she prowls night streets and deserted locales in a white van, seeking male victims. More could be said about the plot, but it's best to allow Under the Skin to reveal itself. From its arresting first image — a pure, white pinpoint of light — it expands outward to become an increasingly absorbing mystery. It's also a Rorschach test for everything one might fear about relations between men and women.

Johansson is sometimes cast for her physical sensuality, and Glazer makes ample use of that here. But the film is anything but lascivious. Having directed landmark music videos for Radiohead and Massive Attack, he was known as a supreme stylist even before his feature films. Here, he offers shades of Kubrick and Hitchcock in his depiction of sexuality, capturing a cool, predatory impulse rather than simple heat. For that matter, Under the Skin shows little interest in simply arousing the audience, be they enamoured of Glazer, fantasy fiction, or Johansson. It proceeds at its own rhythm, accumulating one eerie detail on top of another, serving up sometimes baroque encounters between predator and prey, pushing inevitably towards its disturbing conclusion.

With that said, Johansson states in the Variety interview, "OK, yes I do play an alien who is wearing my own skin. But it's actually not a science-fiction film; it's sort of a film that asks existential questions and much more complex than the logline."

I am currently planning on seeing Under the Skin on my second to last day at the Toronto Film Festival, September 12, and I'll be avoiding early reviews until then. [The Playlist]

  • Grissom

    This film seems like a meager attempt from ScarJo to grab at Oscar gold. I don't see this working.

    • alsonamedbort

      Yeah, playing an sexy alien = shameless Oscar grab.

      (nevermind that Glazer's spent years trying to get this film off the ground, long before ScarJo was attached.)

      • Grissom

        Wasn't knocking Glazer. Sexy Beast was great, but Birth was pretty meh. And considering Johansson isn't the greatest actress, it is a very tilty picture for me.

  • andyluvsfilms

    This sounds pretty ludicrous to me but it depends how it plays, as far as Johansson is concerned I haven't seen everything she's done but she doesn't seem to have a lot of range, unless its pouting.

    • andyluvsfilms

      oh and Sexy Beast is amazing, i rewatch that one quite often.

    • Grissom

      Her range includes pouting, stink eye and sounding like she needs a cough drop. Definitely an overrated actress.

  • Hello Kitty

    I've been waiting for this movie since forever. Interested to see how they adapt the book and its message about consumerism.

  • Winchester

    Ten bucks says Cameron Bailey's effusive paragraphs are at least as entertaining as the film itself.

  • SeenSome

    Sexy Beast is a great film and I like Scarlett Johansson but I'm mostly curious to see this just for its Scottish setting.