From E.T. to Third Rock From The Sun, the idea of an extraterrestrial visiting our planet has been mined for tears and laughs alike.
But relatively few films – The Man Who Fell To Earth is a rare example – have seriously pondered what it would be like if alien intelligence actually arrived on Earth: how strange they would seem to us and how utterly baffling we would seem to them. Under The Skin steps up to the plate.
Jonathan Glazer, the returning hero of British film absent from our screens a whole decade since 2004’s Birth, has turned in what could well be the most beguiling, inventive, atmospheric and unnerving Brit-pic of the year.
Enigmatic and chilly in tone, it’s not the kind of film dripping with exposition. We open on a series of bizarre images set to Mica Levi’s eerie score, which can be assumed to suggest some kind of hyper-sophisticated intergalactic travel.
Then we see Scarlett Johansson (sensationally detached) driving around the Scottish highlands and suburban Glasgow in a van, attracting men into her cab with her, well, Scarlett Johansson-ness, then taking them through a mysterious door in a dilapidated house.
What happens in there? It’s best not to know; suffice to say, the images that accompany the big reveal will stay with you long after the film is over. What exactly she does do is just one mystery among many in this intriguing film – and as we realise Johansson is an alien on some predatory mission, even more questions open up.
Who is the mysterious biker cleaning up after her? Where is she from? What drives her to lure men to their fate, siren-style? Does she feel compassion? As she seemingly begins to doubt her goals, even more puzzles arise – can this strange visitor even begin to grasp what it is to be human?
There are big, big themes, and if the ghost of Kubrick hung a little too heavy over Birth, the cold-minded master’s influence is here recombined to more welcome effective with the dry wit of Glazer’s debut, Sexy Beast.
From the otherworld feel he brings to Scottish mountains to outlandish visions straight from the farthest reaches of sci-fi, Under The Skin has its fair share of gob-smacking sights. Homegrown movies don’t tend to offer so much for the eye and brain alike; Glazer is a treasure to be cherished – and let’s hope it’s not 10 years until his next visitation.
You may not be sure what you've seen, but you've sure seen something. With neither a petticoat nor a wideboy in sight, this is one of the most original and exciting British movies in some time.