SCARLETT JOHANSSON’S sci-fi thriller Under the Skin, in which she plays an alien prowling Scotland, devouring lonely men, received boos today at the Venice Film Festival – but this hasn’t stopped British critics from singing its praises and calling it “the Scarlett Johansson naked alien movie”.
At this morning’s screening in Venice, delegates were “twitching, tutting, wriggling and scratching” as if the film was “turning the air in the cinema to vaporised acid”, says Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph.
But he adds: “If my legs hadn’t been so wobbly and my mouth so dry, I would have climbed up on my seat and cheered.”
Collin, who gives the film five stars, describes Johansson as “nothing short of iconic”. In one scene she trips over and passers-by try to help her, explains Collin. “Johansson’s cool bemusement at this simple, human response is one of the most chillingly inhuman things I have ever seen.”
The Guardian’s Xan Brooks also gives it five stars and insists it is “by far and away” the best film in the Venice Film Festival so far. He compares it to a “kind of malarial dream, bathed in cold sweat and seeing hallucinations in every corner”.
Shot on location in Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands, much of Under the Skin was filmed with hidden cameras in nightclubs and shopping centres, while other scenes are filmed in almost complete darkness.
It is a hybrid of two hackneyed film genres, says Brooks: a psychosexual horror and a fish-out-of-water caper like ET or Splash. “Yet the director works a magic on this material. He takes tired old prose and spins it into poetry.”
In America, critics have been far less impressed. When it screened at Telluride Film Festival in Colorado last Thursday, several walked out halfway through. Variety described it as “undeniably ambitious but ultimately torpid and silly”, while Hollywood Reporter suggested it was “visually beautiful but plotless and pretentious”. There were also complaints about “virtually incomprehensible” Scottish accents.
But in the Evening Standard, Derek Malcolm insists it is a film that can succeed without too many words.
“The point of the film is not to see an alien at work among us but to see us from an alien’s point of view,” he says. “And it works with very little in the way of a screenplay and even less obvious explanation — but with a sense of mystery and wonder that a good film-maker can manufacture through style and atmosphere.”
Bought all over the world, it could well become a cult movie, says Malcolm, a bit like its director Jonathan Glazer’s most famous film to date, Sexy Beast. “Only this sexy beast is a woman.” ·