Friday, 4 April 2014



I don't demand a huge amount from movies: all I really ask is that you tell me a story, make it a good one, tell it well, and don't bore me. Nor am I an idiot: you don't need to spell everything out in Alphabetti Spaghetti for me, because I can fill in some of the blanks myself, and that's part of the fun sometimes. But do not, please, tell me a woolly and apparently incomplete story, tell it badly, and leave most of it unexplained and inconclusive. And again, do not bore me.

The basic thrust of Under The Skin would appear to be that Scarlett Johansson is a space alien in Glasgow, picking up single men in a Transit van and taking them back to her house where they're sucked into an all-consuming black fluid, presumably as food for something. Eventually she meets a man and stays with him, but she's shocked to discover sex: she flees into the woods, and is attacked by a park ranger who reveals her true form....

Or something. It's a wilfully obscure and opaque film, with no concessions made to the needs of an audience such as enough lighting to see anything through the visual murk, dialogue that's audible and discernible through thick accents, and actually bothering to give said audience enough information to work out what the hell is going on. Not everything needs to be explained through a loudhailer, but Under The Skin veers so far the other way it ends up as pretentious rubbish, as though director Jonathan Glazer is actively making it as offputting as possible. In some ways this is actually worse than DTV horror garbage like The Hospital and Heretic: those films are rubbish because their makers are talentless idiots, but Glazer shows far more contempt for his audience by refusing to allow them into "his" film which we're paying to see. Because he's an artist, you see. Fine: if you don't want to let me in, I'll just stand outside and throw rocks at it.

Sure you get scenes of Scarlett Johansson naked, but they're not erotic or sexy, and she's dressed down and frumped up so she can interact with real Glaswegians, Candid Camera style, without being recognised (fair enough: there were points where I didn't recognise her, and I'd only seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier a few days before). And sure, it sometimes has a nice mood of dreadful mystery to it. That doesn't alter the fact that it's a boring, glum, humourless and drab film: there are powerful and intriguing moments and some nice visuals (and one genuinely shocking moment of visual horror), but they're not enough. It all goes for naught if the poor sod in the stalls doesn't have some clue what's going on, and Glazer's evident belief that he's above such piddling trifles as mere storytelling makes his film difficult to watch and even more difficult to enjoy.


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