Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DVD of the Week: Under the Skin

Occasionally - and its a nice feeling, in a lot of ways - you watch a movie that makes you sit back afterwards and think "what the hell did I just watch?". I mean, if the film is bad enough you can have that reaction to, the sensation of wonder that something so terrible managed to escape out onto screen, but other times its just that a film can take a lot of mental processing to properly unpack. And there are a lot of reason for that too - some films have a lot of layers, where you need to work through it all, and others are just deliberately obtuse, demanding that you throw your own meaning onto the succession of scenes you have just witnessed. This final category is one I often struggle the most with, as I get caught between juggling self-analysis and an assessment of film-makers of intent, and end up lying awake trying to poke at dusty parts of my own brain. Which brings me quite nicely to this weeks movie, Under the Skin.

The film opens with a man in biker leathers (who, like nearly everyone else in the film, remains nameless) pulling a woman's body from the side of a road into the back of a van. The scene cuts to a white room, where another woman - the woman we'll be following for most of the movie - strips the corpse and dresses in it's clothes. Then she starts to drive around the city in an anonymous white Ford Transit Van, chatting to passing strangers, occasionally giving them lifts, and then, when she can, taking them back to an all-black room where they strip off and become submerged in the floor, and...then something else happens to them? Or something?

So very quickly the film starts to feel like a waking dream - things are clearly happening for a reason, but we don't know what that reason is. Who is the woman, and what is her relation to the biker? What is actually happening to the men she takes to the black room (other than nothing good). Why? The direction is fantastic, the audioscape is creepy and haunting, and the central performance from Scarlett Johansson is mesmeric, subdued and broken. There is a sense, watching it, that it does all make sense, and there is a logic at work, but an alien logic (possibly literally alien), one that is slightly out of your reach. 

I don't know if I enjoyed it - I certainly was absorbed by it, and I've certainly thought a lot about in the days since. It has a lot to commend it. That said, I can imagine a lot of people will bounce off it - I can imagine a certain part of the audience being there because they heard that "Black Widow gets her kit off" and it amuses me as to what their reaction may be. It is a very, very, art-house project, one with no answers, a film that is an experience, rather than a proper story. I liked it, but I'm not sure that enjoy is a word I could apply. 

But I would recommend it if you're any tolerance for off-beat, art-house fare that with leave you half-confused, and half-enthralled. And if you work out what the hell is going on, please let me know.