Movie Meltdown

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Under the Mesmerizing Skin

by Bryan Renfro

     This… this is the reason I go to the movies. Every once and a while I see something that is so captivating as a movie-going experience that I am reminded why I love it so much. Johnathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is such an undertaking, both visually and structurally, that it is... completely mesmerizing. While some more narrow-minded viewers may suffer a WTF knee-jerk reaction to what is happening on-screen, the film makes no apologies to those rigid spectators. In fact, it completely refuses to cater to a culture that has grown accustomed to having a plot spoon-fed to them. Instead Glazer chooses to let the story trickle out as it goes along, and by the end those who allow themselves to be swept up in it - are immersed in a spectacle that they will not soon forget.

     Most of the weight of this undertaking falls squarely on the shoulders of it’s lead. And thankfully Scarlett Johansson has no problem carrying the bulk of the acting in this film. She not only is the main character, but more or less the only continual acting performance that runs the length of the movie. What might seem like an odd casting choice for those who have only see her in the recent run of Marvel movies, in actuality, Johansson has been slowly cutting her teeth on well-written indie movies since her teenage years. But somehow, has been doing so under the radar of mainstream Hollywood. Fooling them with her good looks and her easy marketability into making her an A-lister. All the while, honing her skills as a terrific actor. In fact, I think in time she will come to prove herself as one the more versatile and capable actresses of her generation.

     So from that perspective, it comes as no surprise that she would be interested in such an artistic and unconventional film. And she steps up to deliver a performance that is nothing short of impressive. In a role that requires her to play charming and self-assured in one scene, only to be thrust into the next where she is both inquisitive and bewildered by her surroundings. This peculiar story (based on Michel Faber’s novel of the same name) calls upon her to present more then just the array of feelings required by most acting performances. But it also asks her to give us a series of mechanics. A logical portrayal of why her character does what she does. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, it then forces her to completely breakdown those mechanics as we then watch a newfound persona emerge amidst this crisis of will. And we again get to witness her redefine her role as this new train of thought takes over. It’s a series of tasks that would break a lesser actor. But Scarlett stands firm. 

     The only thing that rivals her performance in this film is director Johnathan Glazer’s style. His camera work is impressive without being overly showy. Allowing the viewer to be engrossed in what is happening on-screen more-so then the way he shoots it. But still he brings an amazing visual presence to a movie that saddles him with having to focus on both the very natural world around us… to an almost sterile and desolate existence that is hidden on the other side of an unsuspicious-looking door . And he does it with the most grounded delivery. Even with the otherworldly aspects that come into play in this story, he keeps everything as realistic as possible… until he doesn’t. Basically until the moment is right, and we crossover to that other reality… where he is free to present this new world as creepy and fantastical as he chooses. And he does. 

     “Under the Skin” is a bizarre cinematic experience that I found completely fascinating. The story structure itself is engaging, and as surreal as it occasionally becomes, it never sacrifices the plot for random strangeness. To say... it never gets weird, just for the sake of being weird. Everything fits within the outline of the screenplay and nothing takes away from the forward momentum of the story. Most impressive is the overarching way that Glazer plays with the very animalistic idea of stalking your kill. The relationship between predator and prey is masterful. He unsuspectingly examines the whole symbiotic process… and how quickly it can turn. It all makes for an interesting and impressive production, if you are willing to accept it for exactly what it is. And more specifically, enjoy what it is that he HAS given us, not question the things that he has not.  



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