Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
100 Greatest Videos Games Of All Time
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Empire Visits The Hobbit's VFX Team
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
4Music's Size Does Matter
Introducing your new favourite app
Empire Blogs
Words From The Wise

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Venice 2013: Under The Skin

Posted on Thursday September 5, 2013, 08:09 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Venice 2013: Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s third film received a sort-of kicking at the now awards-predicting Telluride film festival, where its presence as some sort of special “preview” in advance of its Venice world premiere will forever put off producers, notably British ones, from ever doing that kind of thing again. The reviews from that fest, notably from Variety, braced us for the worst, but most critics were pleasantly surprised when the film surfaced on the Lido.  While Under The Skin is certainly difficult, sometimes impenetrably so, it joins a burgeoning number of films – this year alone – that deal in abstracts and do not give a flying fuck about commercial considerations. It’s perhaps not as haunting as Only God Forgives, arguably not as frustrating as Upstream Colour, and definitely not as psychedelic as A Field In England. But this is definitely a significant movie, British or not, and there are certainly going to be repercussions – good ones – from it.

At the core of the film is Scarlett Johansson’s nameless central character; we see her at the beginning taking the clothes from a dead woman’s back and putting them on. From here, she gets into a van and begins a tour of the Glasgow area, where she engages local men in flirty conversation (conducted, it must be said, in a very good English accent). I’m not sure if this is spoiler territory or not, but it becomes creepily clear that this woman is not of this world, as the men discover when what they think will be a sexual fantasy come true turns out to be something terrifying and deadly. The woman goes through this procedure several times, but finally something changes in her. Quite what is hard to say, but at this point the film changes direction, with the woman disappearing from the “handlers” who seem to control her and going distinctly off the grid.

Glazer has said repeatedly that he wanted this story to show the world through “alien eyes”, and that is exactly what his film does best. The real world is shown in crisp digital, making full use of the non-celluloid clarity of the image, yet when the story dictates it, Glazer makes the leap into exquisite and astonishing fantasy, mostly in the scenes in which the woman’s victims meet their hair-raising end. Without having read the book, it’s hard to say for sure what the film is ‘about’, but it does seem that Glazer has fashioned an interesting essay about the nature of species. We never really get to know who or what the woman is, but we do see that in her involvement with mankind she does start to go native, developing curiosity, empathy and finally humanity. Is it purely mimetic? Or something spiritual? That’s a big question, and the film handles it with powerful understatement.

Indeed, there is something quite exquisite and perfect in the casting of Scarlett Johansson alone, herself an anomalous creature whether shopping in the fluorescent hubbub of Boots or tripping over in amid the crowds on the pavement of Sauciehall Street. She plays the part with good grace, since the character has no character arc, no understandable motive and, from the look of things, very little in the way of personal comfort. But against the odds both she and Glazer have created an affecting story that does speak to the soul, a poetic journey of discovery that completely conveys the protagonist’s otherness.

The average Scarlett Johansson fan will likely hate it, and even admirers of Glazer’s previous work (Sexy Beasts, Birth) are not guaranteed an easy ride. But this is a bold and sometimes visually breathtaking piece of punk-art cinema that gives a lot of food for thought, a trip through dark matters to inspire the kinds of thoughts and fears that usually only ever come to us in nightmares.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Login or register to comment.

Comments

1 Manfrendshensindshen
Posted on Thursday September 5, 2013, 15:51
I'm glad that Glazer's finally back on the big screen.

Judging by the review, he seems to move away from narrative norms with each successive movie. Sexy Beast wasn't particularly challenging, Birth was quite ambitious in telling some intangible story aspects in a pretty traditional stylistic framework (has there ever been a better Kubrick homage, in terms of sheer craft?) - and now this seems like a complete break with established cinematic storytelling methods.

Being a world-class commercials director probably lends this freedom to pursue a career contrary to what we've come to expect. He certainly isn't selling out...

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (439)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Screen To Stage: Shakespeare In Love
By Helen O'Hara

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
By Ali Plumb

Pete Docter And Jonas Rivera Talk Pixar's Inside Out
By James White

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
By Dan Jolin

H. R. Giger: An Empire Tribute
By Ian Nathan

How Edible Cinema Finally Allows You To Eat A Movie
By Ali Plumb

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
By Helen O'Hara

Are iPads And Smartphones Changing The Face Of Filmmaking?
By Ben Kirby

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
By Helen O'Hara

My Encounter With Shia LaBeouf
By James White


RECENT COMMENTS

Screen To Stage: Shakespeare In Love
"Have just re-watched this twice over the past few weeks and forgot how fantastic it was. I'm now des"  fire_and_water5025
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"This looks unbelievably good... wish I could afford to go!"  Roo
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"Nice to know Martin enlisted another author to help in his world-building. Time to get acquainted wi"  Imperion
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"@Y2Nield.com The original Hogwarts section and what was duelling dragons (has now"  Sexual Harassment Panda
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"Actually i recomend The Foucault Pendulum for several reasons, in the first place it explores the es"  andresfelipeurb
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"A great sneak peek, Ali. Aside from your confusion as to where Diagon Alley/King's Cross and Hogsmea"  bruciebonus
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"im due to go in October this year and having been before, i can honestly say i cannot wait. I agree "  kopite
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"still think it's a shame that they didn't make this in England. imagine getting the Hogwarts Express"  RX78
Read comment

9¾ Things We Learnt At Universal Studios Florida's Diagon Alley
"Were you actually there Ali? If so, surely you know that Marvel Land is Islands of Adventure and not"  Y2Neildotcom
Read comment

Miss Game Of Thrones Already? Here's The Solution…
"I did the exact same thing with the books after season 1(even though I'd promissed myself to just re"  manufan
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Movies’ Most Quotable Lines
566 comments

'It's Just A Bit Of Fun': Why Defensive Fans Are Bad News For Movies
361 comments

Competitive Geek Baiting: Or, How To Start A Fanboy Fight
338 comments

The Avatar Backlash: Evaluatin' The Hater-atin'
303 comments

The Complete List Of Tired Movie Cliches
286 comments

Your Favourite Animated Film
217 comments

Note To Hollywood: How To Get People To Switch To Blu-Ray
192 comments

Food For Thought
132 comments

The Ten Moviegoing Commandments
127 comments

Just The Facts, Ma’am
127 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (167)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Gillian Robespierre And Jenny Slate Talk Obvious Child
Director and star on their acclaimed rom-com

Video Interviews: The Stars And Directors Talk As Above, So Below
We talked to Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman and company about their underground horror…

The Future Of Film: All Big Blockbusters Will Be Shot At 48 FPS
Our month-long series begins discussing the innovations that will shape cinema

Video Interviews: Chloe Grace Moretz And Jamie Blackley Talk If I Stay
The stars, director R.J. Cutler and co-star Joshua Leonard talk YA adaptations

The Empire Podcast #126: Jon Hamm Talks Million Dollar Arm, Mad Men And Beards
Plus Richard Ayoade pops in to talk about directing The Double

15 Of The Weirdest TV Cameos Of All Time
From Michael Palin in Home And Away to Ian McKellen in Corrie

Updated: The 36 Best Film-Related Ice Bucket Challenges
The viral craze that won’t quit takes in some of Hollywood’s finest

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)