Film

Under the Skin

Stranger danger

Thursday, May 15, 2014

She doesn’t say much, this black-haired woman in the tight jeans and tacky fur jacket. She drives an unmarked van. She stops and asks passersby—always male—for directions. Sometimes she’ll offer a lift. She’s friendly and inquisitive, wanting to know whether the men have family, friends, roommates.

And if they don’t, that’s the last anyone will hear of them. Poor guys—one victim after another.

In Under the Skin, a deeply creepy and mysterious noir from filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, Scarlett Johansson is this quite literal femme fatale, robotic, hypnotic, trolling Scotland—cities, villages, the cold rocky shores—for prey. Who she is and where she’s from are questions that get answered, to a degree, as she moves through her nights and days, but she shares an affinity with other strangers in a strange land: David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, say, or Jeff Bridges in Starman, only less benevolent.

Under the Skin begins with a trippy Kubrickian lightshow—orbs and spheres, horizon lines illuminated in blinding flares. (The music throughout, by Mica Levi—spare synthesized strings, percussion—adds to the eerie vibe of the film.) And then the camera finds a motorcycle zooming through the night on a curved road, its headlight probing the dark. And soon enough, there’s Johansson, on her predatory rounds.

Glazer’s film is minimalist, avant garde-y, and its seduction scenes—Johannson stripping down, and the man she’s lured along for the ride stripping down, and then moving toward each other as the surface beneath their feet turns to liquid—have the power and poetry of a dream.

Or a nightmare.

Glazer and his cinematographer, Daniel Landin, capture people as they come and go, commuting, shopping, partying. There are sequences on crowded streets, faces dark, voices loud, that evoke Lindsay Anderson’s mid-1950s Free Cinema short, O Dreamland—a narration-less tour through a seaside amusement park, like Diane Arbus fueled on fish and chips.

Under the Skin definitely gets under your skin. If you want spooky, allegory-free sci-fi, the film works that way—an alien among us, trying to come to terms with this odd new context, and with her increasingly empathic urges. (The more she lingers, and commingles, the less sure she is of her own being.) But if you care to look at Glazer and Johansson’s film as something else—a woman’s journey as a sexual being, the hunger, the curiosity, the power, the fear—it works that way, too.

Just don’t climb into any vans driven by smiling, beguiling women who offer a ride back to their place.

Really, don’t.

SVCR Innings
More Film...
The Lovers
Something old, something new

It’s been painful in recent years to see Todd Solondz, the once-inspired director of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, making his characters so lowly and pathetic they no longer seem real. If Solondz had kept his empathy for life’s everyday losers but put aside his compulsion to…

more »
Citizen Jane
Battle for the City

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, directed by the gifted journalist and documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor), tells the story of a David-and-Goliath fight over urban planning that took place more than 50 years ago. Yet the movie just about pulses with contemporary…

more »
Mysterious Sci-Fi Cinema
A Film Is Truth fundraiser

Because I was raised by fascists who lived to persecute me (Hi, mom and dad!), I didn’t (read: wasn’t allowed) to watch much television when I was growing up. For years, the only thing I knew of popular programs came from the chatter of my friends—chatter I was sadly excluded from.…

more »
Events
Today
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

What-A-Sho!

7:00pm|Bellingham High School

Julius Caesar

7:30pm|Miller Hall

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Cornwall Park

Seconds Sale

10:00am|Good Earth Pottery

Seaweed Beach Ramble

10:00am|Living Earth Herbs

Book Trailers

12:30pm|Ferndale Library

Valley writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Whatcom County Tourism

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Ski to Sea Block Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

WWU Orchestra

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Genre Legends

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Julius Caesar

7:30pm|Miller Hall

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Whatcom County Tourism

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Genre Legends

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Lummi Island Artists Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Low Tide Picnic

11:30am|Marine Park

Stones Throw Block Party

12:00pm|Stones Throw Brewery

Blossomtime Parade

12:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Project Connection

1:00pm|East Whatcom Regional Resource Center

We Are WWU

6:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Northwood Steak and Crab Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Sunday
BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Back to the basics

7:00am

Ski to Sea Race

7:00am|Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Fairhaven Festival

12:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Images of Resilience Farewell

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|Majestic

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Trove Lester and Hyldahl Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1