Richard Lutz offers you the lowdown on the best movie on the flatscreen this week. And a warning: it’s creepy.
My sister-in-law passed through recently and picked up a DV D lying on a table and watched it. I told her it was filmed in Glasgow and starred Scarlett Johansson.
Being from around there, she got ready for a light hearted Scots comedy, or a heavyweight urban crime thriller. What she got was “Disturbing, unsettling,” she barely whispered as I scraped her off the wall.
The film is a sci-fi horror story – one of the best ever made. It’s directed by Jonathan Glazer (a proud graduate of Nottingham Trent University, by the way) who also turned out the great British gangster movie Sexy Beast with a heavy-lidded Ray Winstone and a psychotic Ben Kingsley.
Under the Skin is another matter.
Johansson is an alien who lands in Glasgow on some kind of undefined mission to harvest men. She picks them up in a white van off the streets of Glasgow, lures them to a derelict house and then transfixes them as they slowly sink into inky ooze. The lads expect one thing. She gives them something else. Lord knows why this is being done.
I have to say that’s the most digestible part of the plot I can offer. Otherwise it’s an elliptical film that delivers more questions than answers. Why is Scarlett harvesting Clydeside males? Who is the mysterious guy on the souped-up motorbike who seems to follow her? What happens to the captive men last seen floating in a viscous nowhere land? And, can you get through the first 13 minutes with no dialogue, just expressionist images and industrial techy sound?
Like all good sci-fi, you are never sure. Glazer portrays a British landscape – both urban and rural – through the alien’s eyes, always the best way to see your own world. Everything, everywhere, everyone is faintly dangerous, distant, odd, from the Glaswegian males to the empty Highland roads to the piece of chocolate cake that mystifies the female alien as she sits down to eat at a silent bland cafe in the Highlands.
I won’t spoil the whole shooting match to describe what happens. But let’s say Scarlett the Alien does change as she encounters the human race wrapped in all its simple emotions, its kindness, its urges, its psychological glitches and, yes, with all its treachery.
What is fascinating though about this movie, on top of its gripping sense of dread, is how it was filmed.
The star and the director hitched up a secret camera in the back of the white van and Johansson, seemingly outfitted from a Primark sales rack and decorated with a black wig, did really pick up Glaswegian lads on the night prowl.
They filmed her come-on to these guys. And after the take was satisfactory then told the men they were secretly filmed in the presence of a Hollywood A-lister. Amazingly all the men contractually agreed, post facto, to allow the footage to be used.
So, watch Under the Skin with care. Lock the doors, close the curtains and be ready to be rattled by a fine creepy, creepy, creepy film that will do no good for Scottish tourism or the psyche of Clydeside menfolk.