Richard Roeper Blog

‘Under the Skin’: Brilliant mood piece about a fascinating femme fatale

Weird. Brilliant. Stunning.

“Under the Skin” is by far the most memorable movie of the first few months of 2014. It’s as if the script for “Species” had landed on Stanley Kubrick’s desk and he had decided to transform it into a stark mood piece that drills into your psyche and will stay there forever.

This is what we talk about when we talk about film as art.

Scarlett Johansson plays the Woman Who Fell to Earth, an alien of some kind who literally assumes the human features of, well, someone who looks like Scarlett Johansson in a wig, tight jeans, camisole and fur coat. Calling herself Laura, she cruises Scotland in the sort of van favored by movie serial killers, hitting on young lads. (Johansson speaks in a British accent, the better to play the part of a damsel in semi-distress looking for directions.)

It seems important to Laura to know if these men have families or if they’re single and unattached. If they’re in the latter category, she invites them into her van and then into her house.

And that’s when things get really creepy and mesmerizing, with Laura taking off her clothes while walking slowly backward, and the latest hookup taking off his clothes while moving forward, and the score growing louder and ever more screechy and intense.

Does she murder the men? Are they being preserved for their organs to be harvested? Are they held in some sort of black, inky limbo, to be dealt with later? The authentic, docu-style look of the film gives way to dialogue-free, audacious, symbolism-laden visuals that might have some viewers heading for the exits. At times “Under the Skin” almost dares you to say, “What the …?” Suffice to say no good comes of accepting Laura’s invitation for a lift and climbing into her van…

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