Adapting Michel Faber’s curious novel Under the Skin was always going to be a Herculean task.
An alien comes down to Earth, roams the Scottish highways for bulky men and lures them away to be farmed for the home planet – and that’s only the half of it. Hardly Richard Curtis stocking-filler.
Instead of trying to adapt the novel’s vast, weird plot into an unsatisfying film, screenwriter Walter Campbell takes the fundamental elements of Michel Faber’s story (alien, sexuality, men) and, with the help of director Jonathan Glazer, cinematographer Daniel Landin and Mica Levi’s otherworldly score, creates something more like an art installation than a Friday night popcorn movie.
This was the right decision, and results in the most original British film in decades. There’s no “arguably” about it. How many home-grown flicks have not only developed special cameras for improv shoots, but an almost entirely new cinematic language with which to tell their story?
Under the Skin crackles with life. It’s a cinematic event that turns the simple act of going to the movies into a multi-sensory experience, with nothing but picture and sound. It’s visually stunning, aurally groundbreaking; it takes the 3D goggles straight off the 300 sequel’s face and stamps them flat with a stiletto.
Speaking of which, Scarlett Johansson is a revelation as the alien protagonist – sensuous, unnerving, fragile, baffled, lifeless, full-blooded and every other state of being a performer can conceivably be in for a single role. She pulls off a difficult part – that of an inhuman being slowly becoming human – with aplomb. It’s a brave performance, and one that most beautiful young starlets would have run away from without a backwards glance.
To say this film will not be everyone’s cup of tea is an understatement. This is the sort of experience that will leave some hyperventilating into a paper bag and others throwing their popcorn at the screen. But that’s precisely what makes Under the Skin unmissable, and Jonathan Glazer – whose last film, Birth, came out nine years ago – the most exciting director currently working in British film.
See it. Talk about it. Try to forget it – you can’t.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 14 March 2014.