In Under the Skin, director Jonathan Glazer takes viewers on a visual journey like none other. An extensive number of surreal scenes occur as alien Scarlett Johansson (or Laura, as her character is actually named) scours the Scottish roadways, posing as a human to lure lone men back to her lair.
Once they arrive, her male companions are only too happy to strip down for this strange, glamorous woman, expecting a good time as she slowly reveals her nude form. Little do they know that their “good time” involves being submerged in a strange preservative liquid before their innards are harvested from their flesh.
This process repeats in confounding succession, framed by stark backdrops, detailed close-ups, and unexplained light shows, while the audience struggles to develop a vague understanding of what the hell is even going on. The problem is only compounded by the thick Scottish accents pouring from the mouths of candidly shot locals, a technique that Glazer pulls off with impressive ingenuity.
The whole process changes, however, when Laura stumbles across a lonely young man with neurofibromatosis, a condition that curses him with a severe facial deformity. After tricking him into diving into the preservative bath, she develops a sense of guilt as she comes to terms with her own virtual humanity. This causes her to set him free and abandon her mission as she begins to explore the possibilities that living on Earth can offer.
As a result, her mysterious male handler is forced to set things right and hunt her down to ensure completion of the required job. At this point in the film, the events become dramatically engrossing instead of simply cinematically interesting. Laura begins to realize the futility of human existence as she explores the expansive and treacherous Scotland countryside. She makes love for the first time, but during a later experience, the tables are turned when she herself becomes a victim of violation.
Under the Skin may be based on an original novel, but Glazer makes this adapted story his own through expansive cinematography, a haunting musical score, and his unflinching recognition of the importance that all cognizant beings place on finding the meaning of life.
For fellow existentialists, a film couldn’t come more highly recommended.