Friday, September 13, 2013

TIFF 2013: Director Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin"

In Jonathan Glazer's long-anticipated Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson plays an alien temptress, who drives around the streets of Scotland in search of male prey. With the over-saturation of fast-paced and CGI-laden spectacles today, Glazer's (Sexy Beast) latest offering is a welcome return to the smart and atmospheric SCI-FI thrillers of the past.

There's no real explanation given for the alien's motivation -- in fact, there's very little dialogue in the film at all, which may turn off some passive viewers, who prefer having a movie's plot-line spoon fed to them. In Under the Skin, audiences must stay engaged to absorb what's going on. And what's going on is best not said in this review so as not to spoil the experience.

Johansson plays the alien seductress with such great subtlety that her male victims appear to be first confused by her sexual overtures. There's almost an innocent nature in her character that gives men the wrongful impression that they're in control, and it's that naivity that draws them easily into her web. 

Glazer uses hidden cameras in several scenes to capture pedestrians' genuine reactions to Johansson's alien. Specifically, there's a moment when her character falls on a very busy sidewalk and has difficulty getting up. The good samaritans who help her up are real and never suspect that they're in a movie. The same goes for the men who give her directions around the city. Little do they know that every interaction with Johansson is being captured. Needless to say, this style of filmmaking takes improv to a new and exciting level.

I couldn't write this review without also drawing attention to Mica Levi's creepy and hypnotic score, which significantly contributes to shaping the film's dark mood -- much like Bernard Herrmann's score did for Hichcock's Psycho.

Under the Skin is precisely the film that sophisticated SCI-FI enthusiasts have been waiting for.

[Director Jonathan Glaser in the Elgin Theatre]

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