By Ezra Stead
Under the Skin, UK / USA / Switzerland
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Species is a 1995 sci-fi/horror/action thriller about a terrifying extraterrestrial monster that assumes the physical form of an attractive and notoriously easy earth girl, then uses this form to dupe horny earth men into going somewhere private with her/it. She then reveals her true form and eats them. Or uses them to incubate her eggs. Or something. Point is, the guys meet a messy demise; glorious ‘90s nudity and gore abound. How do you take that basic, very cool idea and make an intolerably tedious art film out of it? Ask Jonathan Glazer.
Glazer, who made the Tarantino-esque chatty mobster movie Sexy Beast with none other than Species’ own Ben Kingsley, then decided to go more highbrow with the annoyingly self-serious Birth, goes back to his roots as a music video director here. Under the Skin is all about atmosphere and striking imagery, at the expense of any real narrative or character development. It’s more like a video installation in an art gallery than an actual movie.
Scarlett Johansson is the cipher of an alien. The film begins with a mysterious motorcyclist (he remains mysterious throughout, but we can only assume he is also an alien and that he is her higher-up in whatever strange mission they are pursuing) delivering a female corpse to the already humanoid alien so that she can steal its clothes. She then proceeds to lure various men into her windowless van, where she leads them to believe she plans to have sex with them. Instead, they meet a demise that is much prettier but more ambiguous than the messy eviscerations of Species. This repeats itself for about 90 interminable minutes. Along the way, the alien seems to be gaining some human feeling, and she even lets one of the men—a hideously deformed virgin—go free, though he is quickly dispatched by the mysterious motorcyclist.
To what purpose is all this happening? The film has no apparent interest in answering this question, preferring to leave it open to interpretation, I guess. To me, at least, this comes off as more half-baked than profound. The whole thing has an air of being deep and meaningful, but it never really convinced me. Some say this film is a reaction against rape culture; others argue that the film itself is misogynistic. Personally, I’m not sure it’s saying anything, least of all anything coherent or compelling.
This is most definitely a movie I didn’t get. It’s possible that its languid pace just numbed my faculties, that there are subtleties I might have missed, that I might appreciate it more on a second or third viewing. All these things are possible, but one thing is certain: I’d rather just watch Species again.
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and aspiring stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.