Under the Skin

Released:  2013

Cast:  Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Adam Pearson, Michael Moreland

SUMMARY:  During the night in Glasgow, Scotland, a motorcyclist (Jeremy McWilliams) stops on the side of the road, gets a young woman’s body out of the ditch, and puts her into the back of a van.  This young woman, apparently dead, is then undressed by a mysterious naked woman (Scarlett Johansson), who puts on the clothes and leaves.  As soon as she can, the woman buys new clothes and makeup.  She then begins driving around town in the van looking for single young men.  When she finds one looking for a ride, she obliges, then takes him back to a rundown house.  Inside, she begins to undress as she walks away from him; he also begins to undress, but slowly descends into a black pool of liquid as he follows her.  The woman then redresses and leaves the house.  She is next seen on a beach talking to a swimmer.  She appears to have made a connection, but the swimmer suddenly sees a drowning woman and runs off to help her.  The woman’s husband also rushes in, and begins drowning himself; the swimmer manages to save him, only to have him run right back into the water for his wife.  Both eventually disappear under the water, and the swimmer is left collapsed on the beach.  The woman walks over to him and bashes him over the head with a rock, then drags him into the back of the van.  Later in the evening, the motorcyclist goes to the beach and collects all of the swimmer’s belongings.  The woman next visits a nightclub and picks up another young man.  Like the first, he follows her back to the house, and like him, this man descends into the black pool.  Under the surface, he sees another body floating (the swimmer), and touches his hand.  As soon as contact is made the swimmer’s body shrivels up and leaves only skin behind; a red liquid is seen running in a chute.

The woman starts wandering through Glasgow and begins observing the people around her.  She eventually returns to the van, and this time picks up a man with a facial disfigurement (Adam Pearson).  She takes him to the house, where she looks at herself in the mirror.  The skin on her face seems to be showing bluish-black lines, as if the skin is decaying or thinning.  The woman lets the man go, but he is later tracked down by the motorcyclist.  The motorcyclist and a few compatriots then set out to find the woman.  She has gotten out of the van, but this time does not return.  Instead, she goes into a restaurant and tries to eat, but is unable to keep the food in her mouth without gagging.  She continues traveling by foot and runs into another man (Michael Moreland) who offers to help her.  The woman goes home with him, and the two watch TV and eat (he does, at least); when she sees him tapping his leg with some music, she tries to tap her fingers.  The next day, the two visit a castle, and the man shows compassion and tenderness in dealing with the woman’s fears and uncertainties.  That evening their relationship begins to turn physical, but the woman suddenly stops, grabs a lamp and begins looking at her genitals.  She leaves the man’s house and wanders into a forest, where she meets a logger.  Eventually she finds a cabin open to the public and falls asleep there; when she wakes up the logger is trying to molest her, so she takes off running.  The logger chases her through the forest, and when he catches her he pins her to the ground and starts tearing her clothes off.  He suddenly stops with a horrified look on his face; the woman stands up and reveals that some of the skin on her back is torn off, showing a black underbody instead of human insides or blood.  The woman then peels off her face and the top half of her body.  She holds the face and looks at it as it continues to look back at her (still apparently alive), and does not notice that the logger has snuck up behind her with a container of gasoline.  He splashes the gasoline on her, then lights it; the woman is set on fire, and takes off running.  She gets to the edge of the forest before she collapses and is completely consumed by the fire.

MY TAKE:  This is a weird-ass movie.  It’s categorized as an art film, but there is a storyline (unlike some of the art films that I’ve seen).  It does not offer an explanation of what happens, but it seems like the woman is some sort of alien or droid whose job is to entice young men to the house, where they are captured and eventually killed in the black liquid.  The motorcyclist is tasked with policing her.  For whatever reason, her skin starts to wear down after a few days and eventually peels off; the underneath looks like a crash-test dummy in all black.  The unexplained aspect actually kept me watching, as I kept wondering what the hell was going on.  It’s also an interesting film because there is almost no dialogue, especially in the back half.  When Scarlett Johansson is cruising the streets in the van, she talks to a number of young men, but after she lets the disfigured guy go I don’t think she says anything but “yes”, one time, when the guy asked her if she needed help.  She apparently decides that she wants to become human, and tries to adopt human customs.  Personally, it killed me when she spit that cake out, because it looked really good and I love cake.  It was also somewhat amusing when she gets a little hot and heavy with the helpful guy, then abruptly starts checking out her downstairs with a lamp.  I did not need all the nudity, from either gender.  I don’t really understand nudity in movies:  almost every movie with nudity is rated PG-13 or R for another reason (violence, language, subject matter, etc), so anybody old enough to be watching said film should already know what that looks like.  I do not need intimate details.  I was somewhat surprised to find that Scarlett Johansson actually did her own nude shots without a body double — the first time in her career that she’s done total nudity.  Obviously she’s pretty comfortable in her own skin.  Another interesting thing about the movie is that most of the actors (besides Scarlett, obviously) were not professional actors at all, but people of other professions or people Scarlett talked to on the street while a hidden camera captured the action.  The guy who plays the motorcyclist, Jeremy McWilliams, is actually a professional motorcycle rider, and did all of his own stunts; the disfigured guy, Adam Pearson, has neurofibromatosis and gave the director advice about how his character could be lured in by Scarlett (if you notice in the film, she talks about his hands).

RATING:  Weird but not horrible.



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