Under the Skin (Blu-ray)

July 11, 2014 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I tend to take a more rudimentary approach to a lot of things in life. So when I received the press release for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, I simply responded back to Lionsgate with the following line of dialogue: “…anything with the words skin and Scarlett Johansson in the same sentence is something I’m going to watch…” The PR agent responded back with a coy “Yep, me too!” I’d not heard of the film, but when it arrived, I was somewhat taken by the cover art, the bleakness of it all. Suffice it to say that I was a bit captivated, so before playing the disc, I decided to do a little research on the movie. This is the first film that Glazer has directed in the last decade, the last of which was 2004’s Birth starring Nicole Kidman. Glazer was also noted for 2000’s Sexy Beast with Ben Kingsley in top form.  Back to the movie itself – I’d learned that Johansson plays an alien, she’s also topless (more on that later) and the movie takes place in Scotland.  You won’t get a lot more even after the credits roll, but here we go…

Johansson plays a nameless alien who we meet in the first scene. She’s replacing another of her species as she dons the other creature’s clothes. As she walks the streets of Glasgow (Scotland) we see that she knows how to drive and speak. She talks in an English accent and is looking for young, single men with seemingly no attachments to anyone or anything. She finds a couple and, under the guise of sex, lures them back to her place. This is no ordinary place, but rather a jet black room in which her clothes come off as the victim(s) are following her. We don’t know how or why, but the men eventually drown in a pool of a black substance. The process is repeated. We see her on the banks of a shore as she witnesses two deaths. She picks up a disfigured man only to let him go.  Eventually she ends up in the woods running from a would be rapist.  It’s then that we see her true form.

I watched film critic Richard Roeper’s review of this film and he summed it up best when he said “…this is easily the most polarizing film in the last few years…” I agree. If you’re one that needs all of the questions answered and needs to have everything wrapped up nice and neat by the time the closing credits roll – this is not for you. There’s not a lot of dialogue in the film, which I found ironic since Johansson lent her voice to Spike Jonzes’ Her in which she didn’t have a physical form. Here her dialogue is limited and we see her, yes all of her.  So if you’ve been clamoring to see Johansson in all her glory, the wait is over. I’ve seen the film twice now and I’ll say that it did make a bit more sense the second time around. It wasn’t an epiphany for me or anything, but I looked at it from a different perspective. While comparison’s to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey abound, I do think that Under the Skin is unique enough to stand on its own. It’s not for everyone, though.

Video: How’s it look?

I’ve often said that pretty much any day and date movie that hits Blu-ray will look pristine. Well, I must recant that statement as Under the Skin doesn’t look bad, per se, but it’s definitely got its own visual look and feel. I realize that there are a lot of beautiful places in this world, but I can say that after seeing this film that Glasgow, Scotland is not among them. To quote Morgan Freeman’s character from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves “…does the sun ever shine in this God-forsaken country?” What a dull, drab and decadent place.  The grey skies dominate the daylight scenes making way for a very muted and almost drab color palette. Granted the opening montage is somewhat unique and another nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is a rather unique and somewhat perplexing transfer. It’s bad by no means, but like the movie itself it’s just different.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Though the disc contains a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack, it’s really only utilized in one scene – in which Johansson’s character is dragged (almost literally) to a nightclub. Other than that this is a dialogue-driven movie, though the amount of actual dialogue is pretty minimal. Though Johansson’s character seems to speak in an English accent, it might help to turn on the subtitles as we’re treated to a few “locals” whose Scottish accent is so thick that I had to rewind the scene and watch it a couple of times.  Ambient surround effects are few and far between and used mainly in the opening montage. Truthfully they could have gotten away with a mono mix on this one.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I’d have really liked to hear a commentary track by Glazer, but it wasn’t meant to be. We get a series of 10 featuettes here on all aspects of the film.

  • Featurettes
      Camera – We learn a bit about the number of cameras involved in the film as well as how they were hidden from some of the “extras” who appeared in the film. Take that SAG!

      Casting – Glazer talks a bit about his choice in Scarlett Johansson and some of the other actors in the film as well. The disfigured man had never acted and was comfortable with his scenes.

      Editing – The film’s editor speaks as to the literal layers of film (8 in all) and the extensive process it took to get the movie to the finished product we see.

      Locations – Several locations were considered, but ultimately Scotland was decided upon. Also discussed is how Johansson was somewhat disguised throughout the shoot in order to keep from being recognized.

      Music – Mica’s soundtrack and naturalistic score is covered here as well as some of the other elements in the mix.

      Poster Design – Johansson’s face was used and the posters were created over the course of  a weekend to create the look and feel of the film.

      Production Design – The infamous black room is discussed here and how the effect was achieved as well as some of the logistics of the shoot, fighting the weather and keeping the cameras hidden from the locals.

      Script – If you’re looking for some input as to the film’s opening sequence, Glazer does give an answer here. Also covered is the adaptation of the original novel to screen.

      Sound – The minimalist sound design is discussed here as well as the very naturalistic sound sequencing.

      VFX – There weren’t too many visual effects, but those that were are discussed here. Hint: the ending sequence.

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