Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Under the Skin

(Jonathan Glazer, USA/UK/Switzerland, 2013)

Glazer's slow-burn sci-fi creepfest is a worthwhile if underwhelming effort. Skin's sleek, fluid surfaces and grimy black depths produce atmosphere to spare, but the film is visceral to a fault.  It's achievement is primarily technical, designed with impeccable taste and a diabolical sense of the uncanny, but lacking the ideas that would deepen and solidify the experience.

Glazer's principal tool, beyond his thrilling technical imagination and considerable skills at mood-setting, is ellipsis.  As audience members, we're perpetually on the outside, piecing together the story and the questions that must arise; about the nature of the aliens, their mission, their interactions with humans and each other, and the events that take place between certain scenes.  The overall effect that Glazer was trying to create seems to have been what it would be like to experience the world through the eyes of an alien - the making of the familiar into something strange.  This is a great concept, as far as it goes, and it produces some moments of eerie bewilderment, not least because the whole thing is set in Scotland, which through Glazer's cold eye becomes an almost alien land of forbidding mountains and seascapes, sparsely populated with pale, unintelligible humanoids.

And yet all of this effect alone isn't enough; the feints towards ideas about human sexuality, with a special emphasis placed on gender roles, are undercooked.  Such are Glazer's skills as a conjurer of images that it almost skates by as a structuralist avant-garde piece, but there's not enough abstract rigor to qualify for that designation.  This is too bad, considering the enormous (if familiar) ideas that are skirted: the proximity of death and sex, the precarious edifice of gender norms, and the final inscrutability of nature.  Under the Skin doesn't lack for craftsmanship or audacity, but it doesn't cohere into a fully lived experience, either.

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