Film: Under the Skin

Under the Skin is a Horror-inflected Science Fiction film made in 2013 and directed by Jonathan Glazer. It is a loose adaptation of Michael Faber's novel of the same title. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien who disguises herself as an attractive woman in order to prey on hitchhikers.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The film puts a more surreal spin on already surreal source material and explains practically nothing.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The alien, due to some very bad timing.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Aliens in Glasgow.
  • Aliens Speaking English: Justified - we can actually hear the alien learning to speak English during the first few minutes of the movie.
  • All There in the Manual: Several reviews of the film name Johannson's character as "Laura," presumably from a press pack. She is never named in the film, but is called Laura in the "Editing" featurette of the DVD Bonus Content.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: All of her victims seem to have no problem getting letting a strange woman take them back to her place a few minutes after meeting her. Even the disfigured man, who is a friendless virgin, mocked by people so much that he has to shop at night, completely lowers his guard after just being touched. And, to hammer the point home, the closest thing in the movie to a good guy, the one who looks after her for a while, can (under a certain light) be seen as taking advantage of her. Imagine this movie with a male lead character picking up horny women all day long. Though, none of the male characters were played by actors...
  • Amateur Cast: Many of the scenes where the alien picks up men were unscripted conversations with non-actors, filmed with hidden cameras.
  • Attempted Rape: Near the end of the movie the main character is attacked by a logger who does not respond lightly to his truck being entered.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: The main character has nipples but no visible vagina.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: When the female is set on fire, there's a shot of the motorcyclist looking around in apparent confusion. This would seem to indicate that he is aware something is happening to her, perhaps that she is dying or, if he had some awareness of her location, that that awareness is now gone.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Applying human moral standards to the aliens is impossible, since it is never entirely clear what the aliens are doing. It seems that they are using humans as food, but even that is just a guess, at least in the movie.
    • Actually, it seems to be implied that they use their victims' skins to disguise themselves as humans, to stealthily implant agents on the planet. The flesh may be used for food, though.
  • Body Horror: The men the alien seduces. They get suspended in liquid long enough to puff up, then are popped, with their empty skins still floating around (NSFW). It's terrifying.
  • Body Motifs: Skin, as one might infer from the title. It's the only thing left once the alien's victims are consumed and it's also how the alien's true form is revealed, after her false skin is torn open.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with the image of a dead woman: a mystery girl, implied to be our protagonist's predecessor, at first, and later, the protagonist herself, hinting that she herself will be replaced, just like the first girl was.
  • Dark Is Evil: Everything about the aliens: the black room and its human processing oily liquid, and their actual physical appearance, being black-skinned humanoids with yellow eyes. When they're not associated with black, they're associated with red, with their dimly red lights. However, this is somewhat subverted, since the protagonist eventually develops a conscience, and only reveals her real form near the end, when she's embraced her humanity.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Seeing the alien in her underwear seems to prevent her victims from noticing (or caring) that they are in the Eldritch Location described below.
  • Emotionless Girl: As per the trope's description, she "mimics social conventions by heavyhandedly triggering the desired emotions and behavior in others." She can turn on the charm and sex appeal when she's luring another victim into her van, but otherwise is blank-faced and aloof.
  • Eldritch Location: The alien's "apartment" that sucks the men she picks up through the floor, and puts them through the aforementioned body horror.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • One of the alien's victims is a man with severe facial deformities. Seeing him running around naked is... disconcerting.
    • The much-anticipated scenes in which the alien is fully naked can also (rather surprisingly) come across this way, as there is nothing remotely erotic about the way they are shot. The alien is far more interested in the way her body's anatomy works, giving her examining herself in a full-length mirror a somewhat clinical feeling. Of course, some people will find them sexy anyway, simply because it's Scarlett Johansson.
    • "Scarlett Johannson undressing another woman" loses a lot of its appeal when the other woman is dead or comatose.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In one early scene the alien is driving around Glasgow, and we see from left to right: a shop selling leather, a poster saying SPACE INVADER, an advertisement with the slogan "You. Me. Something Else," and a poster for a performance of Beauty and the Beast. Just after the bus with an advert on the back saying "It's possible."
  • Genre-Busting: Is it a sci-fi horror film? A drama? An art film? All of the above?
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: A variation; many of the behaviors or details that get extreme close-ups are actually ordinary parts of everyday life that most people don't bother to think about, but become unsettling because of the close attention payed to them.
  • The Grotesque: One of the protagonists's intended victims (the actor really does look like that, but lives a happier life than this character).
  • Heel Face Door Slam: The alien is killed by an attempted rapist on the way to her Character Development.
  • Human Aliens: Played straight until the Gainax Ending.
  • Humanoid Aliens: Her true form has the basic human body type, but with all-black skin and yellow eyes.
  • Infant Immortality: Unknown: the baby left on the beach after its parents drown is ignored by the motorcyclist, and a later radio report indicates it is missing. His eventual fate is not shown.
  • Ironic Echo: Throughout the movie, when the alien seduces men and captures them, an eerie soundtrack is heard. When the forest guard attempts to rape her and then kills her, a distorted version of the same theme is used, as if to indicate that the tables have been turned on her.
  • Kill It with Fire: At the end of the movie, in the woods the man in the yellow jacket douses the main character with gasoline and sets her on fire, after his attempted rape of her tears off the fake human disguise she has been wearing all this time.
  • Legacy Character: An unusually subtle example. The dead woman that the alien gets her clothes from at the beginning is implied to be the protagonist's predecessor, hinting that after the alien's death, someone will come to replace her, too.
    • One reviewer gave an even more depressing interpretation - the woman at the start is Isserley, the more humane protagonist of the novel, who has now been discarded by the motorcyclist.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The victims. One of them we see at length is very well equipped.
  • Masquerade: Only the aliens seem to be aware that there are aliens in Scotland.
  • Mind Screw: Just what exactly is going on in the film isn't clear at the best of times.
  • Motorcycle on the Coast Road: There are several long shots of the alien's male partner zooming through the Scottish countryside on his motorcycle. Road racer Jeremy McWilliams was another non-actor cast in the role because he was able to do this in bad weather.
  • Nameless Narrative: No one in the film has a name, aside from the family on the beach, who are named the Mc!Clellands, although you have to pay attention a radio broadcast in the film to catch it. Even the credits don't list any names.
    • The first victim, Celtic F.C. fan Andy, tattooed his own name on his arm.
  • Pinch Me: The man played by Adam Pearson pinches himself because he can't quite believe what's happening.
  • Pinocchio Syndrome: After her encounter with the disfigured man, the alien starts attempting to act more human and do human things, like eating cake or having sex. Neither of them go well.
  • Questionable Consent: The man who takes the alien in after he finds her on the bus has sex with her, and he thinks she is a traumatized / mentally challenged human woman, which would make it debatable whether she could give informed consent. While she seems fine with this, it also doesn't look like she knows what sex even is exactly, pushing him off her after he apparently ejaculates to examine herself. Thus it seems doubtful that she actually knew what was going on. So from either of their perspectives it's problematic.
  • Raging Stiffie: All of the alien's victims get erect penises. Well, they are acting alongside Scarlett Johansson, so you can't blame them! And the film is rated 15 in the UK. How it was possible for the filmmakers to be allowed to show them is a mystery.
  • Redemption Equals Death: The alien is killed after an unsuccessful rape attempt just when it seemed she was beginning to learn her lesson.
  • Redemption Quest: The female alien embarks on this after she seduces the man with the deformed face.
  • Replicant Snatching: Early on, we see the alien's trap suck out the innards of a victim, leaving only the skin. Later on in the movie, we see the alien's "human" skin peel off, revealing a distinctly nonhuman body underneath. Put two and two together, and...
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of scenes of beautiful Scottish highways and woods.
  • Scottish English: Many of the cast speak with such thick brogues that even the alien has trouble understanding them.
  • Sensory Abuse: The soundtrack isn't painful exactly, but the harsh noises are played up, and what little dialogue there is tends to be so quiet as to be virtually inaudible, especially if lots of people are talking at once, emphasizing her lack of connection with humans.
  • Silence Is Golden: There is dialogue in the film, but it's definitely not the main focus.
  • To Serve Man: It appears quite possible that the alien is eating her victims' bodies.
  • Surreal Horror: The intensely oppressive atmosphere and constant Mind Screw make it a very unsettling film. No one aspect of it stands out as particularly horrifying on its own, but there is a definite David Lynch feeling of dream-like terror to it.
  • Unequal Pairing: Played with. The man the alien comes to trust and then has sex with is simply a normal man, so is obviously far less dangerous than she is. However, he thinks she is a traumatized / mentally challenged human woman, so he presumably thinks that he's the more powerful one..
  • Villainous BSOD: When the alien sees herself in the mirror, presumably for the first time, after she consumed her third victim.
  • Villain Protagonist: Most of the film is seen from the point of view of a female alien on Earth who is seducing men in Scotland. Apart from what happens to the men, she allows a couple to drown and then leaves the couple's baby on a desolate beach.
  • The Walrus Was Paul: Suffice to say, the film leaves a lot of things ambiguous, starting with the characters' names and escalating from there. Who was the dead girl at the beginning? What happens to the baby on the beach? What exactly is the alien doing to the men, and where? What is the relationship between the alien and the motorcyclist? Why did her encounter with the man with the deformed face cause her to change? And so on.
  • White Void Room: Where the alien takes the dead girl, implied to be her predecessor, and dresses herself in the other's clothes.