Glasgow goes bizarro in Under The Skin, an arthouse sci-fi starring Scarlett Johansson as some sort of predatory alien disguised as a woman, driving round Scotland in search of men to lure back to her alien lair.
Just as Arnold Schwarzenegger was the natural choice to play a robot, Johansson is perfectly cast as an alien designed to look pretty while attempting to emulate human behaviour – it’s worked well for her so far.
To her credit, Johansson actually steps out of her comfort zone for a change – director Jonathan Glazer (not to be confused with Jon Glaser who plays Councilman Jamm in Parks and Recreation) has her prey on real members of the public, who stupidly don’t recognise the A-list star under a dark wig.
This extraordinary combination of Candid Camera and Monster (or Candid Monster) makes it difficult to tell what is real and what is not. Perception, appearance and beauty may be well-worn cinematic themes, but Glazer’s fusion of realism with surrealism gets right under the skin, appropriately enough.
While much sci-fi feels emotionally detached (that means you Interstellar), Under The Skin has moments of real tenderness, humour, and distress – none more distressing than a gaggle of Glasgow party-girls dragging Johansson into a nightclub, which becomes a Lynchian labyrinth full of threat and sweat.
Cracks start to show in Johansson’s identity, as she encounters the cruelest and kindest displays of human behaviour. Part of her journey into human discovery involves watching Tommy Cooper’s classic spoon-jar-jar-spoon routine, itself a take on perception and a fine choice for introducing aliens to human culture.
Under The Skin is a haunting, thoughtful and dreamlike piece of sci-fi, thanks to its experimental direction, beautiful special effects and screeching score, which sounds like a car braking before some terrible crash.