Culture House Daily

Under the Skin: one second of tits to every three minutes of glen

17 March 2014

10:22 AM

17 March 2014

10:22 AM

‘I thought it was supposed to go on for another half hour!’ said a man in the foyer on the way out. ‘When the alien got burnt to death I thought thank fuck for that.’

Before you get annoyed with me for giving away the ending, let me explain that this is one of those films where plot takes a back seat. More than that, it’s been tied up, gagged and locked in the boot. I can’t stand it when people give away the ends of films, which is why I never read reviews before going to the cinema. Too many reviewers have no respect for plot.

So I didn’t know that much about Under the Skin, only that it was based on a book by Michel Faber, which I hadn’t read, and that it starred Scarlett Johansson as a sexy alien who lures Scottish hitchhikers to their untimely fates. And that lots of people – and not just Total Film – were calling it a masterpiece.

Having watched Under the Skin, I still don’t know that much about it, although I do now know what Scarlett Johansson looks like naked. This is the film’s biggest draw along with some alien video art and some pretty stills of the Highlands that could have been produced by the Scottish tourist board. (Quick, this could be your last chance to see it without a visa!)

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We see rather too much of the Scottish countryside, its scary forests and desolate moorland and fierce seas. Clearly the director, Jonathan Glazer, was worried that too much Scarlett and not enough scenery might jeopardise the film’s artistic integrity. He seems to have been working to a ratio of one second of tits to three minutes of glen.

Glazer is careful to show another side to Scotland too. So we also see plenty of fat, poor people in depressing Glasgow streetscenes, screeching girls in scuzzy nightclubs, and motorways.

And anyway, the nudity’s fine because Scarlett is in an ugly brown wig although not – as Faber’s novel has her – in thick spectacles. I downloaded the book on my way home from the cinema because I was hoping it would answer the big question the film leaves hanging: just why has an alien been sent to earth to capture Glaswegian men?

In the book the doomed hitchhikers are stabbed in the bottom with a tranquiliser-filled syringe that shoots up from beneath the passenger seat as soon as Isserley, the alien, has established they don’t have any family to worry about their whereabouts. The specimens are then sent back to her planet, where they end up as tasty fillets on the dinner plates of her fellow aliens.

In the film, Scarlett tricks the men back to her house on the promise of sex, and does a striptease while her victim unknowingly wades into a dark pool. It is very stylised and lovely to watch, but you have no idea what the point of it all is, apart from an excuse to see Scarlett’s bum. There is a fine line between ambiguity and laziness.

I wouldn’t say the film was terrible. It’s beautifully shot, has a sense of humour in places (the moment when the scrawny Celtic fan peels off his shirt got a laugh from the audience), the score, with its deliberately Psycho-esque violins, is fantastic. It also contains one of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever watched, where the (literally) heartless Isserley leaves a baby to be washed away on a beach.

But if you’re someone who cares about such shamefully middlebrow things as storyline, character development and dialogue, then I would say you’re better off buying the book and looking on Google Images for scenery+scottish+highlands and scarlett+johansson+naked. With the safe search off.

Anna Baddeley is a freelance journalist and editor of The Omnivore

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Show comments
  • Nicole Lee

    Scarlett has some chunk to her yet surprisingly small breasts, overall ugly body great movie

  • OddDino

    Seriously, FUCK YOU for that spoiler.
    THE FIRST SENTENCE?
    Really??
    I don’t care if you didn’t get much from the story, I want to be able to experience it and decide that for myself, not have what is clearly a pretty big plot point blown for me so blatantly in what is supposed to be a professional piece of text.

    I’d expect something like that in a comment or in a forum post by a bunch of idiots that don’t know better, but from somebody who’s job is to write this stuff I would have thought a bit of common courtesy wouldn’t have been much to ask.

    A single sentence saying “Spoiler’s ahead!” would have done.

  • Nathan Rich

    Wonderful camera shots in places. The rest of the film made little sense and was filled with too much stock footage-type shots of trees, along with completely pointless non-interesting non-plot shots. Trying to be Kubrick is obnoxious.

    And I’m sad now that I know Scarlet is fat after all.

  • Rocksy

    ‘just why has an alien been sent to earth to capture Glaswegian men?’ Probably as the answer to a prayer from Glaswegian women.

  • http://batman-news.com Whizjet

    Book was absolutely brilliant – which is why I’ll have to see the movie!

  • jack

    Clearly they should have got a lesbian to review this film. If they needed a woman that is.

  • transponder

    Or I could just look at my own bum in the mirror. It’s second to none, and I don’t have to look at a load of filmic drivel beforehand.

  • Mal

    Thanks for ruining the end, I don’t care if you think it doesn’t matter. There’s way too many spoilers, so I don’t understand why you would crucify other reviewers for giving away plot when it’s all you’ve done. Forgive me, for expecting a REVIEW to give me an indication of whether I should go see it. I wasn’t looking for a plot summary. What a poor review.

  • Owen Baker

    Want to be a little more patronisingly dismissive of something you dont understand Anna dear? (Annoying isn’t it)

  • Hexhamgeezer

    So it doesn’t top Lifeforce the filmed version of Colin Wilson’s ‘Space Vampires’? Which has got Mathilda May in it….

  • MikeF

    Tart and terror.

  • Donafugata

    All SJ ever does in a film is pout and simper for the camera, she never seems to put any effort into any of her roles.

    Under the Skin would seem to be an ideal and undemanding part for her and will, no doubt, reel-in a predominantly male audience who like to fantasise about being seduced and eaten by her.

    • jack

      If you want action, go see her scurry around as a super heroine, in the new captan american movie.

  • ohforheavensake

    Trailer looks great- and now the film’s had a patronisingly snotty review in The Spectator, I’m definitely going to see it.

    • transponder

      Eh! I love snotty reviews! In my unfortunately lengthy film experience (family in the biz and I was a child stand-in), most films of the past quarter century are either a) disappointing, b) dreadful, or c) both a and b. (I don’t know at this distance whether or not Sniper with Tom Berenger was dreadful by any standards, but at least I enjoyed it.) The only pleasure I get from contemporary films is the reviews: the snottier, the better!

      • Anonymous Coward

        Yes, I don’t go to new movies anymore, except maybe Sci-Fi ones for the special effects, I agree that most of them are awful. Although I did see one called Norwegian Wood that I really liked. But yes, movies in general are terrible. But then there’s that International Film company that makes some nice movies.

        • transponder

          That reminds me: Deep Water is a great recent film — but it’s a documentary, not fiction. IFC, the beginning of it says: same company?

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