You've seen this so many times in movies and television: A predator drives around in a nondescript car, sizing up potential victims of the opposite sex with a coolly appraising eye. Is this one gullible? Is this one lonely enough? Would anyone miss this one? In Under the Skin, the predator is Scarlett Johansson, buried deep in a huge brown fur coat and a black wig, and she's scouring the streets looking for young men to lure and kill. Her purposes are nefarious, but this isn't anything so simple or so banal as a gender-flipped serial-killer film. In fact, Under the Skin isn't like anything you've ever seen before. Director and co-screenwriter Jonathan Glazer isn't interested in relaying a traditional narrative, and those with low tolerance for repetition or abstraction will absolutely hate it.
That's their loss.
Glazer's third film after Sexy Beast and Birth is intentionally aggressive toward its viewers. Composer Mica Levi's score is filled with keening whines, jittery violins, and droning, mechanical noises hovering in the background. At least three times, the camera passes over scenes that can only be described as nightmarish—as in, scenes that can and will inspire nightmares—with something akin to Johansson's dispassionate eye. There is nudity, and sex, and even a sensual cake-eating scene, but none of it is pleasurable. The nakedness is that of the morgue, or the operating room, and the food is not so much spat out as rejected like a bad organ. Everything you see, from the rugged countryside of Scotland to the faces of unsuspecting extras, has something wrong with it. It occurs to you that maybe the flaw isn't in the thing you're looking at, but the way you're doing the looking. This is a film about watching, and the violence that watching can do.