From the depths of outer space a learning process is occurring to adapt an alien intelligence to life on Planet Earth. Taking the form of a young woman (Scarlett Johansson), she is brought to Scotland where her assistant (Jeremy McWilliams), also in human form as a motorcyclist, has murdered a woman for her to take the clothes of in an abstract other realm which the alien can use as a refuge when she is not in the real world, though this void is where she is more at home. This void is also where she wishes to lure adult males of the population of this environment, and to do so she drives around in a white van, scouting the area and engaging men in conversation. When she has persuaded one into the passenger seat, she takes them to her lair...
Under the Skin was a film which made audiences very angry, quite often those who had been lured to it much as the victims had been by the chance to see international celebrity Scarlett Johansson in the nude. Although science fiction, drawn from the novel by Michael Faber, when director Jonathan Glazer chose to pare away all elements of the plot to the barest minumum only a select few were willing to go with him, to read between the lines and understand what exactly was going on. This was not going to endear it to the sort of viewer who had enjoyed seeing the star in Marvel superhero flicks, even if it offered her the chance to do something genuinely intriguing.
More intriguing than a personality-free kickboxer with super-strength at any rate, although Johansson was keen to dial back any quirks and traits in her performance in the first hour or so for her alien character was not one which was seeking to convey anything but the most shallow distinctions between her actual impassive state and the persona she adopted to pick up the men. This is about the only time we hear her speak, adopting an English accent as presumably the Scots brogue was beyond her and would have alerted the folks she interacts with that she was not local, since that was for many the most engaging aspect, Johansson really did drive around Glasgow and stop to speak to unwitting passersby whose interactions were captured by Glazer's hidden cameras.
So in spite of the way things turn out by the end, one positive you could take away from Under the Skin was that Glaswegians were more friendly than their reputation might suggest as every one of the members of the public Scarlett chatted with were happy to give directions and in one scene where she pretended to fall over, were concerned enough to make sure she was all right. Which coupled with a carefully applied otherworldly soundtrack by Mica Levi highlighted in its distance the curious cruelty of the plot, that this outsider was taking advantage of the goodwill of ordinary people, only you could see the exploiter as either Glazer who needed footage for his movie or the space alien who needed men to spirit away to her cottage where she looks as if she's trying to seduce them only for them to sink into the floor and in one startling bit have all their insides sucked out beneath the watery surface, leaving nothing but an empty skin.
Precisely why the aliens feel this need remains a mystery, though we can imagine they want to feed, yet even then unless there's an army of these facsimiles their appetite cannot be all that ravenous. What's interesting is that the protagonist meets someone on her prowls that awakens something in her, a disfigured young man who when she goes about her usual seduction, she maybe thinks he's an easier target than many after he admits in short sentences to being starved of affection, but then the alien starts to have regrets as if living among humanity is starting to affect her. Therefore essentially what you had was The Man Who Fell to Earth if David Bowie had been played by the Devil Girl from Mars, cottoning on to the barbarity of her actions and leaving her vulnerable, triggering her to go on the run for the remaining part of the movie. In its quiet, straightfaced manner we were invited to stay observers of the drama while perceiving the ability to feel emotions is not necessarily the weakness the alien initially believes: contrast the baby scene with the thwarted love scene. A cold film about warmth.
Respected British director of music videos (notably for Radiohead) and advertising (notably for Guinness) who made his feature film debut with gangster movie Sexy Beast. He followed it with controversial reincarnation drama Birth and then ten years later finally got to adapt the sci-fi novel Under the Skin his way in a strange, muted work that divided audiences.