UNDER THE SKIN // Over the years, it has become apparent that Scarlett Johansson will not be giving up her independent acting roots anytime soon. She has become a household name with her role as Black Widow in “The Avengers” but she continues to produce small titles which is actually where she got her start, with films like “Lost In Translation”, “A Love Song For Bobby Long”, and now the slowly paced science fiction Indie, “Under The Skin”. And as she becomes more and more famous, she takes more and more risks, baring it all several times in this new feature. As the lead, Johansson plays a nameless character that can only be describes as an “alien seductress”. Set in Scotland, most of the film takes place in a van, as she trolls for men that she can lure back to her flat, where a black void awaits to consume them. Complimentary to her vocal performance in “Her”, Johansson remains mostly silent in “Under The Skin”, relying on her sensuality and expression to get the ideas of her character across. Do not be surprised, if by the end of the year, you cannot get her performance out of your head, as it is that extraordinary.
The funny thing about Johansson’s rise to fame is that many new fans will set out to see this film because of her stardom and most of them will be painfully surprised, as were many audience members upon my viewing who left within the first half-hour. Be warned that director Jonathan Glazer’s science fiction venture is often plodding and not for the faint of heart. But if you are willing to give the strangeness a chance, there is a beauty in “Under The Skin” that does not just revolve around the actress. There is also a dark humor derived from the fish-out-of-water narrative, especially after she breaks away from the skin hunt and tries to disappear. It is here where she tries to eat cake unsuccessfully and has her first sexual experience which ends terribly. Being a huge fan of independent film, I will always have an appreciation for high profile actors and actresses who continue to support these lesser known films despite their fame. Because of them, these films are still getting made, helping to market a completely low budget, unknown film by placing a famous face on it. In the process, they also benefit from their exposure in these films by being able to show their range as actors and actresses, often breaking type and delivering some of their best performances. And if Scarlett Johansson is going to break type, she might as well have done so in one of the strangest, most engrossing films of the year.
[Directed by Jonathan Glazer] [R] [108 min] [4 April 2014]