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Originally published Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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‘Under the Skin’: Beautiful alien casts a disorienting spell

A 3.5-star movie review of “Under the Skin,” a darkly compelling tale of an alien (played by Scarlett Johansson) that comes to Earth to feed on humans.




Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘Under the Skin,’ with Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, from a screenplay by Glazer and Walter Campbell, based on the novel by Michel Faber. 107 minutes. Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language. Several theaters.

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You won’t easily shake off “Under the Skin,” a strange, night-blooming science-fiction tale about a beautiful woman who isn’t a woman at all. Played with quiet intensity by Scarlett Johansson, she’s an alien, sent down to the Glasgow, Scotland, area to cruise for men, lure them into her van and kill them for food. Following her indoors, they disappear into a watery blackness, bending like paper in the wind, shriveling away until there’s nothing left but skin.

That’s the basic outline of the film, but it doesn’t convey its long stretches of silence (interrupted, at times, by Bernard Herrmann-like shrieks of strings); its cold, wet landscapes and sharp winds; its sense, at times, of utter darkness. (One scene, involving a baby on a beach, will chill your bones, even though we see nothing happen; “Under the Skin” is all about suggestion.) Many of the male roles are played by nonprofessional actors, and their thick accents make the dialogue hard to follow, but that only contributes to the film’s disorienting spell.

As the film progresses, the unnamed “woman” begins to acquire some sense of humanity; she finds herself moved by the plight of a deformed man, and touched by the kindness of another who gives her shelter in the cold. But she’s not human — watch the way her arm flops, robotlike, when she’s carried — and “Under the Skin” begins to take on the feel of tragedy; of a creature trapped, like that baby, somewhere it cannot survive. The final sequence is a wonder, as another layer is peeled away on a cold, cold afternoon; smoke rises, fading against the whiteness of a winter sky, becoming nothingness.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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