Under the Skin (UK - BD RB)
Marcus gets in a van with Scarly Jo and ends up sinking in a liquid black room
The vague synopsis for Under the Skin is as follows “A mysterious woman (Scarlett Johansson) seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.” That simple description pretty much covers the basics of what’s going on here but once you know the mysterious woman is an alien and these seduced men end up floating in some liquid black room and all of their innards seem to be being harvested or used for some unknown otherworldly experiment there’s a whole lot more going on in Under the Skin than just a woman on the prowl.
Straight out of the gate Under the Skin's silence is striking. The slow build of eerie score builds as the blue dot in the centre of the screen grows and you realise the extremely effective trailer for the film wasn't just for effect. This film is really going to play by those, easy to compare to Stanley Kurbrick style rules and hit you with visuals and odd feeling for as long as it cares to until we as the audience begin make some sense of it all.
From the first time we see “The Alien” she’s fascinating. Staring at a dead girl in a white room, undressing her and then getting into her white van, this “predator” seems cold and calculating and immediately you just want to know more. Scarlett Johansson plays her with a silent sense of intrigue and her studies of the world around her as she learns to adapt her seduction skills, which are basically look good and seem interested in your prey’s lifestyle – you could argue how effective that would be but you know deep down that’s really all a certain type of guy needs to fall into trap involving a pretty girl - all makes for a fascinating journey.
With all truly great science fiction we don’t really need to know the ins and outs of what’s going on here. The ink black room the alien takes her victims to doesn't make a lick of sense in the world of technology as we know it but that’s the beauty of it. The weird mood, the glossy black surroundings and the fact the guys are oblivious to their surroundings as this beautiful woman undresses in front of them makes total sense on a primal level and the minimal visuals that show what’s happening to these guys when the trap is sprung is just enough to give the sense of what’s going on here.
If I'm honest I could have watched a good 90 minutes of just this bait and trap routine as I enjoyed the conversations between the alien and her prey and the visuals in the creepy black room. Scarlett essentially bounces off the guys by firing questions at them (in an English accent) and to make it even more fascinating many of the actors in some of the scenes didn't know they were being filmed due to the many hidden cameras the production adopted but have no fear this is not a “found footage” type affair, it’s actually quite a beautiful real world set up that still feels wonderfully shot, despite the small camera trickery.
The film’s looks and general mood isn't scary as such but there’s a constant sense of unease. There’s no jumps or anything but I do have to say that the scene with a small child left on a beach at night as one of the alien’s colleagues tidies up a mess, all while utterly ignoring this lone crying child will probably stick with me for life. It’s a striking segment that probably taps into my parental instincts but I'm pretty sure parent or not you’ll be effected by this haunting little moment of pure unease.
Anyway, the film makes its left turn after a decision made from the alien that takes her off mission and then the cold by the book alien suddenly becomes a lot more vulnerable, even more intriguing and the fairly loose vagueness of the film suddenly makes a lot more sense. I won’t go into detail but the first time I watched the film, I felt the already slow moving film lost its momentum a little at this stage but on this second viewing I have to say I didn't feel that at all. Also the striking final moments for the alien also hit me with quite an emotional punch this time whereas on the first time around I wasn't all that taken with how the film wrapped up. This one seems to grow on every viewing, so to me that's a sign of a great movie.
The HD image here is crisp, clean, beautifully lit and way, way better than I expected it to look. I found the cinematic presentation quite dark and dingy but I feel that the film had a much fresher appearance here and it's really quite pretty to look at on Blu-ray.
Black levels have a nice range from deep blues to pure blacks (especially in the liquid black alien room of course) and the film really does thrive in shadow and well lit faces and slivers of colour to pop out of the darkness. Some of the Scottish town streets can look insanely rich in detail as the sun is setting and the street lights take over and once we get out to the woods the natural light makes everything look incredible, even when the mist sets in and minimal filmic grain comes along with it.
Scarlett's vocal practising in the opening is central and strong while the score utterly envelopes the rears and surround speakers. The score here is wonderful. It's creepy and intense and utterly engrossing. It drives the film on, even when the visuals are happy to ponder and makes this rather mundane Scotland based film still feel alien and unusual. The tones of the score, that often sound industrial sit under or above most of the film and is very well presented as the desired feeling of the film.
Beyond that, dialogue is sparse but clear, sound effects sound weighty and real world and the documentary style of the film sounds very much like you'd expect albeit with the odd bit of tone or score underpinning it to make feel more cinematic. Wider scenes in malls and clubs feel well layered with conversations taking place and music and laughter peppered around to give a good depiction of how alive this new world is to our alien visitor. The rumbling bass of passing pubs or larger vehicles as well as the the power of the sea in the beach scene or the thumping club scene push the audio track in bigger sounding directions and when the score is included too this makes for quite the audio experience.
This is an audio presentation that utterly draws you in with it's strangeness and all of the trickery to distort or enhance the world around us works wonders.
The extras are essentially a series of short featurettes that on their own feel too short but together provide a good insight into the film.
'Camera' (05:26 HD) covers the view of the world the camera shares with 'The Alien' as well of the many frankly incredible hidden camera approaches the film adopts and that it was even achieved this way.
'Casting' (04:36 HD) starts with a chat about Scarlett's previous work and why she was chosen for the film and then slips into the rest of the film's cast. It's all very brief but manages to convey the realism the film is striving for in its casting and intensity.
'Editing' (04:22 HD) covers the mammoth task of editing the huge amount of footage shot from the sometimes nine hidden camera filming for 4 hours at a time on some shoots. There's talk of the struggle of how to get the film together and how constructing the film wasn't a clear path.
'Locations' (05;16 HD) covers the film's varied Scotland settings, 'Music' (05:17 HD) covers Mica Levi's approach to the film and 'Poster Design' (02:03 HD) follows through the generation (and many variations) of the film's striking poster from a screen grab of the film.
'Production Design' (03:16 HD) briefly covers the film's minimal but technically supportive design, 'Script' (05:44 HD) talks about how the film is largely cinematic rather than literary buy the story still has to be told within the realms of that and 'Sound' (01:55 HD) and 'VFX' (04:10 HD) cover some of the film's strongest elements in a good but very short fashion.
I was quite desperate to rewatch Under the Skin and was very happy when I obtained this review disc. The film won’t be for everyone, most pure sci-fi always has that effect I guess but I personally got a lot out of this. It’s great to see Scarlett taking chances like this and she totally nailed this alien creature through a largely silent performance. She draws you in with all she does, the film's structure makes you think about her journey at all the right times and some of the visuals here are just fantastic. The disc looks and sound great and has informative but disappointingly short extras but even with that slight negative I totally recommend sci-fi fans and lovers of visual (and audio) delights to venture in this one.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 14th July 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Audio Description
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Jessica Mance
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi and Thriller
Length: 108 minutes
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