Under The Skin opens with a series of striking visual imagery reminiscent of that from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Accompanied by a dissonant concoction of sound the images gradually form to reveal the iris of an eye looking upon us.
It’s a powerfully stark opening, a metaphor for what’s to follow and immediately sets the tone for Jonathan Glazer’s third and most abstract feature yet.
Loosely based on Michel Faber’s novel of the same title, Glazer’s film follows Scarlett Johansson’s nameless being as she embarks on a predatory journey through the despondent backdrop of Glasgow’s estates. Driving aimlessly around she stops to ask men for directions, luring them back to her abode under the presumption of sex before a deep black void seals their fate.
Such an abstruse narrative is bound to divide audiences and critics alike, Glazer’s voyeuristic and enigmatic approach with no explanation offered for the events that take place is fated to frustrate some, but it’s clearly the directors intentions; this is an alien outlook on our society, an experimental gaze on the human race.
In stripping away much of the books coherent narrative structure Glazer succeeds in creating an almost audio visual experience, simmering with angst below the surface somewhat reminiscent of the mood in Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day.
The stark contrast of urban Glaswegian estates with the rural landscapes of the Scottish Highlands portray an almost post-apocalyptic society deep in despair. Repetitive jump cuts of passer-bys sliced together with the haunting sounds of Johnnie Burn’s sound design evoke a deeper underlying sense of dread.
For all its visceral abstract qualities however, Under The Skin does have its downfalls. The lack of any character development proves difficult in understanding Johansson’s motives when attempting to understand and express human emotion, namely compassion. Such a bleak and debased view of society also becomes wearisome.
Regardless, its hard not to be transfixed by Under The Skin’s endearing cinematic qualities. Danile Ladin’s cinematography is intriguing throughout, whether capturing lights beaming off a motorcyclist’s helmet, a wave of mist along the seafront or the deep surreal abyss of the victims fate, each frame pulls us tighter to its surroundings.
It’s Mico Levi’s ambient orchestral score however, which may well prove to be the film’s most chilling aspect, its deep use of atonal sounds encapsulates the film’s ominous tone.
Despite a mixed reception at this year’s London Film Festival and almost definitely too abstract to win this year’s competition – time will tell in due course – its originality and daring approach to British filmmaking cements Jonathan Glazer as one of the most exciting and diverse directors working in Britain today.