There are movies and then there are films that stay with you for days after you finish watching them. Sometimes it’s because the thing is so damn good you just want to talking to people about it. Sometimes it’s because the movie is so bad, you just can’t stop making fun of it. And then there’s the weird ones. The ones that have you shaking your head the entire time wondering how what’s going on screen could have been spun up on a human being’s head. Movies like Drive and Upstream Color that are so out there that they challenge your senses and defy what your expectations of what a film could or should be. Things so blatantly non-commercial and so outside the system of the norm that it’s hard to believe it got made. And so goes Under the Skin.
It’s one of those quiet movies, like Melancholia, that really observes and lingers and relies on atmosphere and an unsettling, discordant soundtrack that pierces the silence with weirdness that just kind of grabs you in your naughty spots and makes you feel kinda icky. It’s only reading about how this film was actually made afterwards that it started to make sense. Apparently they put Johansson in a van in Glasgow, Scotland and had her drive around stopping random dudes on the street to ask them questions and try to entice them to get in the van with her. And watching the film, that’s honestly exactly what it feels like. One of Hollywood’s biggest actresses in a large truck-like vehicle chatting up drunk Scottish guys in a fake English accent, innocently flirting and cajoling. As we saw in Trainspotting, its is often not even clear if some of these guys are answering her questions in English, but even the guys with the thickest accents occasionally utter something that sounds like a real word.
And why, you ask, is this actress in a vehicle picking up homely weirdos on the boulevard? Because she is not playing a Hollywood actress. but some sort of alien creature who entices her prey back to her place with the promise of sex, but instead of doing the dudes, she gets naked (and sometimes just stands there awkwardly in jeans and a bra) and watches her conquests sink mysteriously into the floor of her place. It’s unclear if this is just a symbolic thing, or if it’s actually happening, as the surroundings are less edifice and more strange, glowing black box. It’s all sorts of art-house bizarreness. This is literally all that happens in the movie. She picks another guy up. He sinks in the floor. One dude does actually pop, which is entirely disturbing and made me want to barf a little bit, but otherwise we watch as this happens again and again, but the change in Johansson’s character is subtle and she plays it pretty damn well. And we’ve all seen her not play things well, but have somehow forgiven her because she looks the way she does. Oddly, in this movie, despite her being nude and actually being an alien, the director has made her somehow more human and less feakishly unattainable.
Yes, this movie is odd. Sure, it’s confounding and a little slow at parts. And, of course, the director seems to go out of his way at times to make it make not that much sense and has an ending that would make any Scandinavian (but not an American) proud. But even with all that, this thing sticks with you. I had visions that night of god-knows-what and snippets of the film lingered in my brain for days afterward. I can see why people might hate the hell out of this film, but anything that can affect me to that level is a winner in my book.