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.

More Film...
London Road
A musical murder mystery

The techniques of verbatim theater go back decades, to at least the 1950s, when young German theater troupes would reenact complicated court cases word for word onstage. Even earlier, in the United States, the WPA paid for a form of this performance with its “Living Newspapers,” in…

more »
The Magnificent Seven
Another day, another remake

The big difference between the new version of The Magnificent Seven and the revered 1960 feature is the ethnic background of the main characters. The titular seven in director Antoine Fuqua’s take are a diverse bunch, while the ruthless villain of the piece is no longer a Mexican bandito…

more »
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Renee gets a rebirth

Hapless London-based media type Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) returns to the big screen after a 12-year break to battle unexpected pregnancy, 20-something hipsters and, once more, the perils of live TV in Bridget Jones’s Baby. With our heroine now a successful single producer in her…

more »
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard


Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Making Miso

4:00pm|Skagit Valley Food Co-op

Not If But When

6:00pm|Burlington Public Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Bingo in Blaine

6:00pm|Blaine Senior Center

Wonton and Char Siu

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Roving Cocktail Party

6:30pm|Gretchen's Kitchen

Eagle Presentation

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Blackfish Prophecy

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Beginning Square Dance

7:00pm|Ten Mile Grange

Monastery Talk

7:00pm|Bellingham Shambhala Meditation Center

Mount Baker Theatre CW BOB 2016
A gold medal standard


Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Fun with Fermentation

4:00pm|Blaine Library

Ukulele for Everyone

4:00pm|Everson Library

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Bokashi Composting

6:30pm|Cordata Community Food Co-op

Teton Gravity Research's Tight Loose

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Artifacts Wine Bar Zoots Side Bar
A gold medal standard


Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Final After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square


4:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Autumn Soups

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Tame Your Inner Critic

7:00pm|Village Books

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Looking for Betty MacDonald

7:30pm|Village Books

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Zoots Side Bar Artifacts Wine Bar Everybody’s Store CW BOB 2016 Andrew Subin Mount Baker Theatre Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab Swinomish 2016 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Bellingham Farmer’s Market