‘Under the Skin’ won’t leave my brain: A belated appreciation of the sci-fi stunner

01.20.15 3 years ago

Did “Under the Skin's” absence from this week's list of Oscar nominees represent a glaring oversight? Hardly. Despite being beloved by critics, Jonathan Glazer's unsettling sci-fi wasn't expected to rack up any nods. Which is fine! Some of the best movies never get their due come awards season. Me? I can't get it out of my brain.

I've previously mentioned “The Babadook” as the year's best horror movie, and from a conventional standpoint it certainly is. But while “Under the Skin” is far from a traditional fright flick, it disturbed me in a deeper way than any pureblood horror film in recent memory. The beach scene alone! Haunting, horrifying, utterly unforgettable.

Director Jonathan Glazer is one of the true visionaries working in film today. With the help of cinematographer Daniel Landin and his special effects team he conjured up a collection of the most striking images I saw on a big screen in 2014. Without taking anything away from the films nominated for Best Visual Effects this year, I can't imagine any effect in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will match the lingering impact of the dark liquid tomb in which Scarlett Johansson's alien man-eater imprisons her victims, or the sight of her pitch-black form burning against a snowy landscape.

The whole thing wouldn't work without Scarlett Johansson's subtle but hypnotic performance as the extraterrestrial harvester, who begins the film as an icy seductress and ends it as a vulnerable, frightened, bewildered figure who comes face to face with the worst of humanity and cowers in its presence.

“Under the Skin” is a lot of things: humanist sci-fi, arthouse provocation, pitch-black horror, evocative visual feast – and it is effective on all those fronts. Its 6.3/10 user rating on IMDB? Hard to believe. There is a dreamlike power to the film that I haven't quite been able to shake, and I suspect – like Glazer's previous efforts “Sexy Beast” and especially “Birth” – its stature will only improve with age.

What movie from last year still sticks in your brain? Let us know in the comments.

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