The 10 best films of 2014: No 1 – Under the Skin
By turns breathtaking, hilarious and disturbing, Jonathan Glazer's extraordinary, erotic film achieves a rare blend of fantasy and realism 'Very erotic, very scary' – read Peter Bradshaw's review of Under the Skin Interview: Scarlett Johansson discusses her role in Under the SkinJonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is a film about a beautiful, scary alien that is itself beautiful and scary and alien: it's an entirely extraordinary, outrageously sensual film that Glazer's previous excellent work had really only hinted at, partially and indistinctly. His Sexy Beast (2000) was a visually accomplished, exciting and intelligent crime thriller that was way ahead of the woeful mockney-geezer mode of the time. Birth (2004) had Kubrickian ingenuity and chill, with some remarkable moments; it was a movie that deserves cult-classic status but has yet to achieve it. Then a decade went by, and it seemed that Glazer might be a stylist for whom a sustained cinema career would perhaps not be achievable (and heaven knows, it can happen to the most talented).
But when he gave us his long-gestating free adaptation of Michel Faber's novel Under the Skin, the result really was gasp-inducing: hilarious, disturbing, audacious. No less an A-lister than Scarlett Johansson plays an alien in human form who roams the streets and shopping malls of Glasgow. Perfectly genuine footage of real-life passersby is shown as the incognito Johansson impassively sizes up these earthlings for their calorific value. Then actors will step out of the crowd for their scenes with the great seducer. She takes them back to her place: a mysterious dark cavern in which, in an erotic trance, they submit to being imprisoned and farmed for their meat – and perhaps, who knows, for their very soul.
Watching Under the Skin again brought to mind another comparison: Orson Welles – the Welles who succeeded in creating a hoax martian invasion on the radio and who, in F for Fake (1975), got his partner Oja Kodar to walk around the streets in a miniskirt, secretly filming the lascivious expressions of the non-actor guys looking at her.
Out there ... Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
Under the Skin is just so visually free and uninhibited that there is an intense dark, destructive sexiness in everything about it – quite apart from the hilarious, bizarre, mesmeric eroticism of the film itself. It is a work of subcutaneous potency. It gets under your skin.
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