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The Films of Jonathan Glazer

Sexy Beast

Birth

Under the Skin (May 5/14)

Jonathan Glazer's first film since 2004's Birth, Under the Skin tells the spare story of an alien (Scarlett Johansson's Laura), newly arrived on our planet, who spends her days preying on lonely, single men in Scotland. It's probably not a stretch to refer to Under the Skin as one of the most aggressively arty (and often downright inaccessible) films to come around in ages, as director Glazer has infused the proceedings with a head-scratching, often impenetrable feel that, for the most part, emphasizes mood over context. It is, as such, initially difficult to work up much enthusiasm for the central character's subdued exploits, with Glazer's decision to employ a deliberately repetitive structure - ie Laura trolls the city in her oversized van for vulnerable men - ensuring that Under the Skin's opening hour proves a serious test to one's patience. There's little doubt, too, that the movie's lack of exposition generally stands as a hindrance to the viewer's continuing interest, as Glazer, along with cowriter Walter Campbell, leaves many of the narrative's more pressing questions unanswered (eg who is that guy helping Laura on her quest? is Laura hypnotizing the men she picks up? etc, etc). Nevertheless, Under the Skin remains surprisingly watchable for the majority of its running time, with Glazer's anticipatedly hypnotic visual sensibilities playing an integral role in the movie's mild success. It's clear as well that the film benefits substantially from the periodic inclusion of unexpectedly captivating stretches, with the most obvious example of this a thoroughly engrossing sequence in which Laura picks up and befriends a disfigured young man. And although the movie flounders in the buildup to its climax, Under the Skin recovers for an incredibly stirring final stretch that ensures the whole thing ends on an impressively positive note - with the end result a perpetually uneven yet entirely singular effort from a thoroughly idiosyncratic filmmaker.

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