philosoraptor42: (Fatpie42)
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Under The Skin (2013)

I've heard a lot of mixed impressions of this film, with some lauding it as one of the best films of the year. So, as a sci-fi fan, I realised there was a possibility that I could love this. I heard it was a bit artsy and possibly rather dull, but I mistakenly believed I knew the story it was based on, which meant that I was convinced that the climax would definitely be exciting regardless of what came before.

After some hard searching I've found the story I believed this was going to be adapting and I do admittedly feel a little silly. My mind was immediately drawn to a short story called "Hitch-Hiker" from a collection of short stories entitled "Break of Dark" by Robert Westall. Westall is perhaps best known for "The Machine Gunners" and is a children's writer. But "Hitch-Hiker" was a story about a man travelling around near Glasgow who is surprised to find a beautiful naked woman stranded outside his tent. It becomes clear as the story progresses that she is an alien.

Now looking at wikipedia plot summary for the book "Under The Skin" it appears that the film isn't a particularly faithful adaptation. But the themes are a little different. This isn't quite as simple as an 'evil alien' plotline.

That being said, I never really feel like the film gets much beyond the evil alien side of things. The alien-ness of her is made very stark during an abstract display at the start which is sort of like the construction of an eye, while in the background we hear a sound not unlike a computer learning to speak. It is indicating that the alien protagonist is taking on the appearance of a human. Scarlett Johansson is rather creepy in the way her character seems to turn the charm on and off as she finds people walking by on the street. She goes from cold and unfeeling to a masquerade of empathy. It's pretty clear that we are following a villain.

The best part of the film would have to be the scenes where our alien protagonist snares male human victims, causing them to descend into a kind of ooze. It's quite a spectacular scene, but sadly having been repeated three times we really could have done with a wider plot to focus on and that was pretty thin on the ground.

Having us follow a villain, the film had two choices. Either we would come across a more challenging prey (like in horror films, when the villain encounters the 'final girl') or the villain would come to question their own role (like Christian Bale's 'thought police' officer in "Equilibrium" who starts thinking for himself). I would have preferred the former, but there's no reason why the latter couldn't work if done interestingly.

The thing is, I didn't find it a particularly compelling decision to change Johannson's character from an alien woman who traps and kills men to an alien woman who wants to have a relationship with a man. For one thing, I really didn't understand her motivation. What does she want? We never really know.

And to be quite frank, I thought the ending was a little too simple and obvious considering the long and tedious build-up beforehand. Sure, the visuals and atmosphere are pretty good, but that's not enough. "Beyond The Black Rainbow" was prettier and had better music and while "Under The Skin" is a little more polished and a little better paced, they are both equally limited in terms of story.


(Robert Westall's book of short stories "Break of Dark" containing the story "The Hitch-Hiker" is on Google Books here, but unfortunately it is missing a huge central chunk of the story. Still it's enough to get a good taster for it and to see why I associated it with the basic synopsis of "Under The Skin".)
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