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Beyond the Valley of Roger Ebert

Under The Skin – Film

Under The Skin - A Long Ride To Nowhere

Under The Skin – A Long Ride To Nowhere

I saw a trailer for this film with Scarlett Johansson and it looked intriguing.  At least partially since it was already out of theaters and I hadn’t heard of it.  The trailer, however, did seem to promise something that was at least visually interesting (and not just due to the actress).  This got me to phone my personal Amazon representative and the drone had it at my door in minutes (paying for “Optimus Prime” with them was *so* worth it)

So, I sat down and got the room all dark and popped in the Blu-ray and prepared to be wowed.  When it was over I was, unfortunately, still waiting. It’s hard to say there was any one thing about the film I didn’t like….it was a whole lot of things and none of them stood out particularly among the crowd.

it’s like Liquid Sky and not in a good way

The film started off with a sequence for me that seemed clearly a director trying to impress everyone with how awesome he is…and for me it wasn’t very convincing. There’s elements that felt like they were akin to the final sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but ended up feeling far more like Liquid Sky. And not even in a good way. There, perhaps that’s the most appropriate tag line….it’s like Liquid Sky and not in a good way. Anyway, back to the opening of the film. It starts with words, but no dialog. It shows action and you have to suppose the context…but this is the exposition at the beginning and it doesn’t give nearly enough to place what you’re seeing in a framework. Science fiction films playing with “what is really going on here” is done all the time….but when you’re asking the audience to put things together it’s nice to at least pay off the puzzling. This film never pays off for me.

Evidently this is a predator.

The film is constantly following Scarlett Johansson and from the moment she’s introduced it’s clear she’s not your usual girl. Almost certainly not human…but it’s not clear what she *is*. Is she a cyborg? Is she a robot? Is she an alien? Is this all some intricate virtual reality? We don’t know. All we know is she’s dressed like a tart and driving around Scotland looking for unattached men and trying to get them to go off with her. We follow her from meeting to meeting while the film tries to convince us that it would be difficult for Scarlett Johansson to convince young men to get into her creepy van. Seriously? So yeah, suspension of disbelief on that one totally failed for me. She’s not alone…there’s initially one and then several men on motorcycles who are clearly part of whatever is going on during the film, but their purpose isn’t clear. We’re only shown them in relation to whatever Scarlett is doing, and only infrequently. In the time they’re not shown are they going around chasing unattached women? Are they cyborgs, aliens, robots? Again, we don’t know…it just seems clear they’re not regular people.

So the film shows us a few successful captures and they’re taken off into creepy locations where there’s another 2001/Liquid Sky translation and suddenly we’re in some other place where Scarlett keeps enticing her victims to come deeper into it by disrobing, and they universally oblige. Driven, one would presume, by the lack of blood to their brain (since the film makes sure to show us where the blood is going instead). The folks are then clearly captured, though it’s not really clear how and even though we get shown what “happens” to them, there’s no clue what it means or why it is happening.

a film that goes the full nine yards and gives you a slow examination of the full frontal on *Scarlett FREAKING Johansson* and yet there’s no pay off of any kind.

When the film is a puzzle box, there’s supposed to be a pay off…where the astute film watchers are rewarded with some information about what is going on as validation of their detective work. It doesn’t have to be everything, but there should be some reveal. This film is entirely puzzle box with no reveal. By the end of it, we get shown clear proof she’s not human…but no clear answer about what she is or why she is doing what she is doing. There is no pay off at all, or at least there wasn’t for me. This is in a film that goes the full nine yards and gives you a slow examination of the full frontal on *Scarlett FREAKING Johansson* and yet there’s no pay off of any kind.  Even at the point where the film ends, all I could think is “Well, NOW what?”.

At the end, I wasn’t left with anything about the story because there wasn’t one. You can have an AWESOME movie with only minimal story (Moon comes to mind), but there needs to be *some* story beyond “here’s some things that happened”. In the absence of any story I’m left with just the few reactions that I had to particular scenes. The only one that was a positive reaction was the chuckle I got from a moment where the events get Scarlett to grab a lamp, jump into a corner, and check out her own privates in disbelief. For me, that was as good as the film got. On the down side you get a gratuitous (as in completely meaningless to the the rest of the film) attempted rape sequence and twin scenes that play on the “horror” of messing with someone dealing with pretty severe disfigurement and the senseless death of a child. Seriously, it wasn’t necessary to add to the characters inhumanity by showing them purposefully let a child die. That didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know about the characters, it just pissed me off that there was a director who thought this scene was somehow a good idea.

Too much art, not enough substance.

This film follows a set of events, without explanation and never lets you in really. It shows a couple things to make you *feel* like you’re in the know, but really, they haven’t let you into the story at all. Whatever story there is about this film is hidden behind a wall you never once peek behind.  The absence of any narrative might leave some with the idea that maybe this film is just a reflection on society…but I have a hard time with the thought of putting so many interesting set pieces in place and watching them move around all to have the point be “look at everything except what you’re following”.  That would be a pretty pathetic payoff.  I prefer to think that this is an effort where someone thought that “art over substance” was such a good idea that they ejected *all* the substance and filled it with any art-school-freshman display they could find and hoped that somehow they would luck into images that linked together.  It’s a crappy plan, done in a very pretty way, wasting a massive amount of potential.

If you’re looking for a chance to see one of the currently most gorgeous actresses in the nude without joining in “the fappening”, then yeah, this film may be a good investment of a few bucks to watch….but if you want a movie? Pass, there’s no movie here.

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