Thursday, 15 May 2014

Under the Skin

Saw this movie for the second time in as many days this evening. This is only the second time in over a decade that a movie has drawn me to the theater twice. The first was The Grand Budapest Hotel (which I may write about by and by), but I went back to see that one over a week after my first viewing. Part of the reason for my urgent need to see Under the Skin again so soon was, admittedly, external - tomorrow is the last day it is playing here and today is the last day I was free. But, even without that impetus, I don't think I would have been able to wait too long before going back for seconds. This film is just too compelling.

The first time I saw it, yesterday that is, I was simply spellbound. This despite the fact that there were some rather annoying distractions that marred my experience - multiple sets of people walking in late and taking their time to close the curtain at the back of the theater, an extremely loud party at the restaurant next door with obnoxiously loud country music playing over the movie (which uses sound in a brilliant way, but more on that in due course) and even louder women. But the movie broke through all these and held its own and made me hold my breath for most of its running time.

Scarlett Johansson really got under the skin of the character. She is fast becoming one of my favourite actors, having starred in two of the best movies I've seen this year (Her and Under the Skin). The film wouldn't have worked if she hadn't played the part just right. She is, after all, the only actor credited in the opening titles. And she was flawless. But this movie, like most all movies, really belongs to the director, Jonathan Glazer. I haven't seen a single feature film of his, aside from this. Only ever knew him as a music video director. A great music video director, truth be told (some of my all-time favourite music videos are his works), but that was it. Of course, I am now going to make it a point to seek out his other movies, both past and future.

Speaking of music videos, this movie in some ways feels like a long version of one of Glazer's best videos. There is very minial dialogue, and even so a lot of it is unintelligible (and unscripted too, I believe) because of the thick Scottish accents. But this matters not. This is a movie that doesn't need words. It speaks loudly enough with the visuals and even more loudly with that incredible background score. The music is pretty darn great in its own right, and I can easily see myself listening to it on loop for its own sake (Apparently it was scored by Micachu & the Shapes frontwoman Mica Levi - never heard of the band or this woman, but you can bet your ass I'll be looking both up and grabbing a copy of this score). But, the way it is used in this film! Seriously, this is hands down the best use of sound in a film I've seen in a very long time, possibly ever. Spoiler: The way that the recurring motif used when Scarlett's alien draws her prey in is used again when the roles are reversed - just wow. And silences are used just as effectively.

Sound editing deserves mention too. I especially liked how the sounds were abruptly cut off or changed when the scenes changed. It fit the mood of the movie well. And the mood is what this movie is all about. The atmosphere of the film is pitch perfect, and this is what draws the viewer in, I think. It is hard not to get sucked into it all. We are seduced in spite of ourselves. And once we're in there, it does strange things to us, that are hard to describe. Nay, hard to even make sense of. We are to this film what Scarlett's prey are to her alien.

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