Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
Empire's New Tom Cruise Cover
The Jameson Empire Awards 2014
Vote: The Greatest 301 Movies Of All Time!
Rebecca Hall:
My Movie Life

The actress picks the movies that shaped her
Mountain Dew Green Screen
Register Now to see X-MEN First Class!
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 (432)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (56)

Words From The Wise (33)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

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

Empire Meets Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Rush’ Alter Ego
By Ally Wybrew

The Case For The Wolf Of Wall Street, Surprisingly Feminist Film
By Helen O'Hara

The Movie Drinking Games Too Dangerous To Attempt
By Helen O'Hara

Screen To Stage: From Here To Eternity
By Helen O'Hara

There's No Pixar Film In 2014. Here Are 7 Steps To Help You Survive The Wait
By Helen O'Hara

‘Is Jackie Chan Dead?’ And Other Amazing Film Questions From Google’s Auto-Suggest Function
By Ali Plumb


RECENT COMMENTS

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Because people are idiots? ;) Earnestness, honesty and a hopeful attitude are jus"  spideed2
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Captain America is not boring. Steve Rogers is boring. It's nearly impossible to "  doug64
Read comment

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
"Nice to see this review pop up - I was wondering if you'd been to see it, Helen... I agree with most"  gumphd
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"It's not that the film version of Captain America is uncool, it's the comic book character as resurr"  dansator
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I meant to say "I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned, which some folks think is "  coyoteone
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I don't have a problem with Cap being old fashioned and boring, and frankly, I'm sick of this trend "  coyoteone
Read comment

Screen To Stage: Let The Right One In
"Thanks for writing about this - I was thinking about going to see it but maybe not now. I remember t"  Mpyrereader
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"Just back from seeing The Winter Solider and for me it's the best of the Marvel films so far. The se"  LustForLeith
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"The reason people think he is boring is because in Avengers, he pretty much is. Especially compared "  djdjk
Read comment

Why Do People Think Captain America Is Boring?
"I think people dont give him a chance, a lot of people see a cheesy flag wearing boy scout with no c"  Aaronmantium
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 (295)
Helen O'Hara (166)
James Dyer (85)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (54)
James White (28)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Ten Things To Know About The Spooks Movie
Under the hood of The Greater Good

Who’s In Spider-Man’s Sinister Six?
A bluffer’s guide to the planned spin-off from the Amazing Spider-films

14 YouTube Videos Every Game Of Thrones Fan Should Have Watched By Now
From goats singing the theme tune to every death in under three minutes

Hollywood's Biggest Names On Their Favourite Films
Stars and directors like Nolan, Whedon, Wright and Ford on the films that inspire them

The Remake Report: Hollywood's Do-Overs Coming Our Way
The redoes, remakes, reboots, reworkings and reimaginings headed our way…

The Nebraska Playlist
Alexander Payne programmes a movie marathon for us

More Found Footage: Another 25 Trailers That Tease Missing Scenes
Further sequences that disappeared between promo and final cut

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save money on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get Limited Edition Collectable X-Men Art Cards

Subscribe today and get 6 issues of Empire plus a set of collectable X-Men Art Cards for only £20!

Subscribe today

Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Just £25
Receive limited edition subscribers-only covers every month 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)