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Under The Skin – review – MASSIVE SPOILERS

under the skin poster

under the skin poster

HERE BE SPOILERS!! If you don’t want to know my thoughts about this movie, then I would stop right here. I’m going to go into a lot of different things about the movie as well as my overall feeling about it in this post. So again. If you don’t want to be spoiled as to what this movie contains, DON’T READ ANY FURTHER!!

I hadn’t actually heard about this movie until I went to check the times at our local indie movie theater yesterday and discovered Locke is only at the 9:30pm slot (DAMNIT!).  I saw the title for this, that Scarlett Johansson was in it, and decided to watch the trailer. The preview looked pretty darn good and I can’t even remember the last time I saw an indie scifi movie at all, let alone in the theater, so I thought, “Why not?”

Let me start out by saying that my very first thought upon the end of the movie was, “What a bunch of dicks!” (as in the writer and director) and that’s never a good reaction for an audience member to have.

The last time I was this offended as a woman was when I saw Sucker Punch and for pretty much the same reason: what starts out as a powerful woman (alien) movie ends up a misogynistic dick-fest.

Disclaimer: this movie is based on a book that I have not read, so I can’t speak as to the source material at all. It’s entirely possible that the book rocks and this is an awful interpretation of the book, I have no idea. I also haven’t read the script, so it’s also possible that the script is fine and the director took it in this direction to fulfill a vision of his. I haven’t seen Jonathan Glazer’s (the director) other movies so I don’t know if this kind of thing is the norm for him and this is apparently Walter Campbell’s first produced script, at least according to imdb.com. On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that the book and the script are just as horrendously offensive as the finished movie.

Disclaimer the second: I am not easily offended. Yes, I do consider myself a feminist, but I give a lot of artistic license before crossing the line into being actively pissed off on behalf of my gender. I’m also extremely in touch with my inner 12-year-old boy and have a pretty high tolerance for violence given that horror, scifi and action are my favorite genres. Lastly, rape scenes that serve a purpose in the story/movie don’t offend me, as horrific and disturbing as I find them on a personal level.

All of that being said, let’s get into the meat of this one, shall we?

We start with a lot of the standard, avant-garde lighting and odd visuals and then spend the next half hour or so watching Scarlett drive around Edinburgh picking up men who are all alone in the world (as is established every, single, blessed time in dialogue) to – we presume – eat them. We don’t see what she does, just that they disappear. She uses her sexuality and looks to lure them in, which tells us that she’s totally the ‘bad guy’ in this movie. To reinforce her alien-ness, there’s a random scene where a dog gets swept out into the ocean, the woman owner swims out to save it, then the husband swims out to save her, then the tourist Scarlett was talking to jumps in to save the husband all while their toddler is screaming on the shore. In the end, the parents drown and she drags the tourist off, leaving the baby to die on the beach and get swept out to the ocean with the rest of his family.

Horrors of horrors, we finally see what happens to the men! They’re sucked into some kind of viscous black swimming pool to be dissolved away from the inside out. Honestly, it was one of the dumbest ways I’ve ever seen of portraying an alien eating a human ever. Even now I’m not sure if she’s the one who consumes the men and it’s a metaphor, or if they’re fuel for some kind of ship/hive/offspring we never see because the scene has the remains being conveyered out to some kind of orange/glowy thing as sludge. *shrugs* who knows?

The last man she picks up suffers from a major facial deformity and this starts her humanization. She takes him back to her place, starts to consume him/lure him into the pool thing, and then doesn’t. Whether she couldn’t because of his deformity or doesn’t want to because he’s a genuinely sweet young man is left up to the viewer. Not that it matters, because a motorcyclist who drives around cleaning up after her victims shows up and abducts the man, presumably to kill him so there are no witnesses. (the fact that an old woman witnesses the abduction and apparently makes no attempt to call the police is, I think, meant to show the callousness of humans in general?)

We now spend the next twenty or so minutes following Scarlett around the Scottish countryside as she finally connects one-on-one with a kind local man who helps her out of the cold and wet. There is time spent sight-seeing and just being together until – naturally – there is kissing and almost sex. She freaks out at the actual sex and for some reason has to examine her genitals with a small lamp, presumably because she’s never had human sex before. The man is very sweet about it and asks if she’s all right, though we don’t get an actual answer.

Thus begins the “climax” of the film. We next see her dashing off into the woods, still freaked out, where she comes across a man hiking who is like the ones at the start of the film: dickish and staring at her breasts more than her face. Unlike at the beginning, though, she’s completely lost her strength and courage by this time. Where before she calmly drove away from a gang of youths trying to get in her van to rape/kill her (during the scene I was hoping she would just run them over, honestly hehehe), this time she hurries off like prey, huddling into her oversized man’s coat. She takes a rest in a small cabin placed there for hikers and falls asleep, dreaming of being one with the Scottish woods. And then she wakes up to the hiker molesting her, freaks out again and runs for her life. Gone is the powerful alien woman, reduced to a mere human woman who can’t defend herself in the slightest.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. He chases her, she tries to find help, he catches her and tears all her clothes off and she alternately flails around uselessly and lies there, too scared to move. During the struggle, he rips off her skin, freaks out and runs off to leave her quite literally exposed. She pulls off most of her human skin and we see the alien within, now vulnerable and alone (although why she would be such a weakling just because she’s now in her true form is another unanswered question).

And then, as if she wasn’t powerless enough by then, as if she wasn’t such a weak woman by then, the would-be rapist returns with a can of gas, douses her, and sets her on fire. She runs away while aflame, then collapses in the snow. And then we see the motorcyclist who’s been searching for her staring into the Scottish landscape while she burns into nothing as it snows down around her. We end on the pretty white snow falling and burying all the ugliness.

*bangs head repeatedly on the nearest hard surface*

I don’t know what the director and writer were ultimately trying to convey. What I took from this film is that in order to be considered a strong woman in control of her sexuality, you have to be an alien who consumes men. Also, that positive sex and/or connection between a man and a woman has to be abnormal and require examination (her checking out her genitals). And that men are the ultimate in power who will always take whatever they want and kill what turns out to be different, especially if it’s female in nature. Lastly, all women are weak and can’t defend themselves. Or, alternately, that if you’re a woman, especially an attractive one, you’re automatically prey for men.

Leaving aside the ‘message’ of this movie – because interpretation is a very subjective thing and I’m betting (hoping) that the writer and director didn’t intend to convey what I ended up taking from this movie – let’s talk about the plot holes and the visuals and the distinct lack of scifi-ness to this scifi labeled movie.

The motorcycle guy. Now, I’m not a person who needs to have every little thing tied up or explained to me. I’m a pretty smart cookie and have an awesome imagination. Some of my favorite movies have ambiguities in them. Still, it bugs me when there’s no reason to have a primary character. A character who actually detracts from the movie. This guy was there just to clean things up for Scarlett. And while sure, I can see where such a character could come in handy, I think the film would have been so much better without him. Let’s add some tension to the plot by letting the deformed man escape. Was it really necessary to have someone pick up a towel off that beach where the tourist went missing? And just where did motorcycle guy suddenly get two more of himself to search for Scarlett when she goes off the rails? Minions? Clones? MI6 agents on special assignment to the alien overlords?

The visuals. Holy God the visuals! If you have seizures induced by strobe lights or easily triggered migraines from blinding light, you won’t want to see this movie. Why is it that some people think avant-garde and/or being an indie film is a license to blind people? I will say there are some truly gorgeous shots in this film, but I would thank Scotland herself and the Director of Photography for that.

Being a scifi writer, I know that not every scifi movie’s going to be about space/the stars/the future, etc. The problem with this one is that you could just as easily have labeled this movie supernatural and Scarlett’s a demon, not an alien. It was just too ambiguous. We have no idea where she came from or her purpose, not even a hint of a glimmer. I’m all for subtlety, but a gaping lack of knowledge is just a plot-hole in disguise, imo. I know there’s a fine line between exposition and background for its own sake, but throw me a bone here! Even though this film is about what happens while Scarlett is here on earth, a tiny little glimpse of what she is could have made a big difference to understanding her reactions as she became humanized(ish). Right now, I can make up the backstory that she’s on earth to consume lost souls to fill a quota down in hell just as easily as I can say she’s on earth because her planet exploded/her ship won’t work/she’s here to observe the primitives. There’s nothing to tell me otherwise.

… okay. I think that about covers it. Sadly, I can’t recommend this movie to anyone for any reason and that’s a very rare thing. I’ll also say that the indie movies that either piss me off or drive me crazy tend to be the ones that end up winning all the awards and become everyone else’s darling, so take of that what you will.


About Nancy M. Griffis

Author and screenwriter who loves scifi/action/adventure/urban fantasy genres. I have two published novels, Mind Games and Eternal Investigations, as well as a short story published for charity called "Home Fires Burning." All are available through amazon.com and barnesandnobles.com.


One thought on “Under The Skin – review – MASSIVE SPOILERS

  1. I think the alien got three more guys from the guys dissolved; the first two who we know were left in the black pool and perhaps the deformed guy was put back in the pool too. After they were consumed, their skin did not dissolve. Presumably some other aliens are using the skins to move around in the human world similar to what was revealed of Scarlett’s character at the end.

    I would have love to know the purpose as well. Also, why couldn’t they find her at the end?

    Posted by Nerissa | July 27, 2014, 1:17 am

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Nancy at the Tim Burton exhibit in L.A.

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