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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.
  • Aliens in Cardiff
  • Amateur Cast: Many of the scenes where the alien picks up men were unscripted conversations with non-actors, filmed with hidden cameras.
  • Attempted Rape
  • 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. It's terrifying.
  • Cosmic Horror: Of a nontraditional sort.
  • 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.
  • Gainax Ending: The female alien is fleeing through a forest when a logger - who'd previously offered her directions - attacks and attempts to rape her. He suddenly stops, recoiling in horror, as he (and the viewer) realizes her skin is splitting, and she peels off her skin to reveal her true appearance: a black, featureless humanoid. As she contemplates her skin disguise - which is still alive and looking at her - the logger returns with a can of gasoline and sets her on fire.
  • 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 behaviours 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 live than this character.)
  • Human Aliens: Played straight until the Gainax Ending.
  • Humanoid Aliens
  • Infant Immortality: (Ambiguously) averted: the baby left on the beach after its parents drown is eventually picked up by the alien's partner and put in the back of her van. His eventual fate is not shown.
  • Kill It with Fire
  • Masquerade: Only the aliens seem to be aware that there are aliens in Scotland.
  • Mind Screw
  • Motorcycle On The Coast Road: There are several long shots of the alien's male partner zooming through the Scottish countryside on his motorcycle.
  • Nameless Narrative: No one in the film has a name, even in the credits.
  • Questionable Consent: The man who takes the alien in after he finds her on the bus has sex with her, and while she was willing enough, he thinks she is a traumatised / mentally challenged human woman, which would make it debatable whether she could give informed consent. Of course, given her true nature, it's not an issue, but since he didn't know that, he could be seen as taking advantage of her.
  • Redemption Quest: The female alien embarks on this after she seduces someone who did not see her as a sex object.
  • Scenery Porn
  • 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, emphasising 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
  • 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 tries to have sex with is simply a normal man, so is obviously far less dangerous than she is. However, he thinks she is a traumatised / mentally challenged human woman, so he presumably thinks that he's the more powerful one. See Questionable Consent above.
  • 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.
  • White Void Room: Where the alien takes her predecessor and dresses herself in the other's clothes.

The 27th DayScience Fiction FilmsThe War of the Worlds
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