UNDER THE SKIN /review

the best sci-fi film set in Glasgow

(and quite possibly the best film, in the science fiction genre or otherwise, to be released in the 2010s, or 21st century for that matter)

Yes, it’s the 2013 art film from the mind of director Jonathan Glazer whose back catalogue includes ultra-cool Ray Winstone flick Sexy Beast (2000) and bizarrely controversial Nicole Kidman film Birth (2004) with a sprinkling of music videos for bands like Radiohead and Blur as well as advertisements for companies such as Guinness and Barclays.

Scarlett Johansson is the nameless lead role. She takes time off from fighting supervillains in an overly loud, overly expensive and overly explosive CINEMATIC UNIVERSE™ to plod around Glasgow in a white Transit van.

On the surface, the film is about an insecure, possibly other-wordly Johansson skulking around Glasgow in the aforementioned van on the prowl for young men without families.

It is a film about, if you’ll allow the cliche to fall out of me, the human condition and what it is to be human. We see this developing humanity in Johansson, a vivid spectrum, from endless, lonely and unprejudiced slaughtering of young men to breaking off a sexual encounter to inspect her vagina with a table lamp.

Please ignore that unnecessarily cartoonish take on latter scene, the film isn’t shot in that tone.

Johansson discovers an empathy inside herself after releasing a facially disfigured man, played by Adam Pearson who has neurofibromatosis.

At first glance, the film might not look to follow structural patterns we’re used to seeing but at this point, we realise the film is sliced directly in two. The first half shows us an emotionless Johansson with very little humanity and with this shot of empathy and subsequent deep inspections into herself in a mirror we fall into the second act of Johansson’s humanity. For the second half, she’s on the run from motorcyclist Jeremy McWilliams who may or may not be an alien but did spend 14 years on and off in the MotoGP circuit. (in real life of course)

The vulnerabilities that poke through in Johansson’s character throughout this final act, against the spying and monitoring of an apparent black being and the motorcyclist show the complete breadth of her character work for this film.

Whilst on the run, Johansson has sex with a well-meaning Scottish man in a more rural Scotland, hence my wise-crackery earlier on in this post.

Quite a lot of the fun of this film comes down to attempting to guess who is an actor and who isn’t. Johansson, McWilliams and Pearson and purposefully in this film alongside the man Johansson has sex with (Michael Moreland) and the logger (Dave Acton) from the final scenes of the film. However, most of the randoms off the street appear to be normal people, perhaps the confident man with the Hibs scarf and shirt is an actor, or is he?

There’s some lovely clues to nature of the ending, the one I’m most fond of her is the overlapping with this black skeletal being.

Overall, though, this film whilst very divisive at FFB Headquarters, it belongs in its spot as one of the masterpieces of 2010s cinema.

In a decade that gave us a stew of loud franchised action hollering in our faces on the street, on the television, in fast food restaurants, it is the most noteworthy that whispers in the background or down some alleyway for our attention.

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