The thing about art-house movies is they’re meant to be discussed. I spend a lot of time alone and I watch most of my movies alone. There’s a kind of danger in that, I suppose. Under the Skin was recommended by one of the books I read, analyzing horror. I knew nothing about it and it became clear from the opening that director Jonathan Glazer had been heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick. In particular, 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s also the question of genre—is it science fiction or horror? Art-house goes without saying. The story is minimal and the movie is about images. Even so, Glazer spent years working on the script. The results won critical acclaim but box office failure. We know the feeling.
So what is Under the Skin about? Quite a bit is implied rather than stated outright. The woman—the characters are generally unnamed—is an alien trying to learn about, while living off of, humans. Early on she learns that sex appeal will nearly always entrap men so that they can be used for food. Much of the film involves her driving around Scotland, seeking victims. She has a co-conspirator who goes around making sure she leaves no traceable clues. Conversation is minimal and shots linger to a point that viewers might feel the need for some explanation. When she finds a victim with a deformity, the woman begins to learn empathy. This victim is apparently set free, but is rounded up by her companion.
The woman tries to befriend a kindly man who tries to help her. She can’t eat human food and doesn’t know to wear a coat in a Scottish winter. The intimacy scares her and she comes across a logger in the forest with rape on his mind. When he discovers she’s not human, he burns her to death. Her companion, apparently seeking her, has no idea where she’s gone. Roll credits. As I say, the story is conveyed by the images and they stick with you. The beautiful Scottish scenery can’t help but appeal to someone who’s lived there for a time. The movie leaves you reflective and in the mood for conversation, the way art-house films do. It’s also another example of Euro-horror. This has captured my attention of late since it’s generally intelligent and light on the violence. It makes you think. Critics loved it, but the paying public didn’t want to hand over cash to see it. That means, in my private calculus, that it’s well worth watching.