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Under the Skin - 2013

Under the Skin - 2013

Director(s): Jonathan Glazer

Writer(s): Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell (screenplay) / Michel Faber (novel)

Cinematography by: Daniel Landin

Editor(s): Paul Watts

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Krystof Hádek, Paul Brannigan, Michael Moreland and Dave Acton


Last year's Annihilation reminded audiences everywhere what a match made in heaven sci-fi and horror is in the hands of the right director. When you think of that genre matchup you instantly think of Alien, The Fly and Invasion of the Body Snatchers usually are the go-to for movie lovers. However, if we are talking about the 2010's horror wave, there is no better example than 2013's Under the Skin.

The story follows a female (Johansson) driving around the streets of Scotland luring men back to her house. Once inside the walk into a pitch back room that quickly consumes them and the female moves on to the next. The beauty of this screenplay is how it trusts the audience to connect the dots without the need of expository dialogue. The way we are introduced to our protagonist, through the sound of her voice learning to talk to her undressing a stunned woman for clothes - we understand that she is new to this world and the mission given to her. We experience everything through her, and despite her lack of emotion, her curiosity and search for a sense of humanity towards the end endear the audience to her, even though we have watched her treat humans like cattle.


The sound design and the score of this film elevate this eerie, unsettling film past almost every modern sci-fi horror. From the opening scene of the female learning to talk everything is dictated through sound or lack thereof. My favorite use of sound is when we finally go underneath the black water, and we see the female walking away living her victim floating in the darkness. He is looking around an catches a glimpse of a man withering away, and after he reaches and touches his hand, something sucks him dry living his skin floating in the dark water. The shriek of the violin is the closest thing to a jump scare in this entire film, and it is so expertly done that it always gets me despite me having watched it now over ten times.

Quick note: I love the social commentary of the woman being the stalker and using her sexuality to murder the men.

Cinematographer Daniel Landin shot the room where she takes the victims in a way that it stays with you. The black water reflection within the chamber as the ritualistic score plays over signaling the impending doom of her latest victim is beautiful despite the inescapable death for the men. One sequence that always gets to me is when she is at the beach, and a family is drowning. The camera stays away from the situation as a passive observer, just like the female, and when we finally get down to the shore, we see an emotionless female drag the unconscious body of the man trying that tried to help the family, scored by the helpless cries of the baby left behind. This sequence always messes me up.


Scarlett Johansson's performance as this emotionless night stalker is incredible. How she can switch from a blanked faced alien on a mission to a charming and charismatic woman looking for directions in a fraction of a second is beyond impressive. Her evolution through the film as she starts to question her existence, and sympathizing with the humans she has been hunting is earned, and it doesn't come out of anywhere. Her realization that she cannot exist as a human is tragic, even though we have been witnessing her lure men to their death.

Under the Skin is an ageless experience as it harkens back to the horror films of the 70s with the slow, drawn-out pace that creates an atmosphere dense with tension mix with the sleek sound design and editing of the 2010s. Every single element that when into crafting this film is hitting on all, and the cherry on top of this psychological-sci-fi-horror film is the incredible performance by Scarlett Johansson. If you haven't given this film a try, go watch it now. You will not regret it.


Under the Skin is Why I Love Movies.  

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