Imagine this, fellas: you’re walking down the sidewalk one day, and a white van pulls up beside you. The driver of the van is Scarlett Johansson and she offers you a lift to her place. Pretty good day, right? Well, it would be if she was actually human. That’s the basic premise of Under the Skin, the new film by Jonathan Glazer (‘Sexy Beast’, ‘Birth’). I say ‘basic’ because this is a very unconventional alien invasion movie.
Most of its plot points are told through gazes, not explosions. Johansson’s character, a very nondescript being who puts on the body of a beautiful woman, is in quiet cahoots with another being who is masquerading as a human man. He seems to have already figured out his human form, but she definitely has not. The things she learns about body image as she gains more human experience are probably in direct conflict with what he believes about it, because their professional relationship goes through a significant rift. Thankfully, their scheme is not over-explained. This waiving of exposition unclutters a movie with a lot of ideas that would have been a mess were it more concerned with its plot mechanics.
Johansson’s performance is top-notch – her wonder at each new interaction totally fits the character and supports the mood of the film. Glazer’s direction is what makes it all tick, though. A film about studying life appropriately has a life of its own.