Under the Skin ★★★★

Contrast affords clarity. The stark separation of this from that draws attention to the differences between the two and, naturally, dispenses with ambiguity. Glazer’s film attempts to refute that, basing its entire premise on the notion that ambiguity can be integral to contrast, and clarity overruled.

Sexy yet disinterested. Tedious yet arresting. Ominous yet banal. Natural yet alien. Hideous yet beautiful. Deliberate yet vague. Under the Skin is all of these things, but its contrast isn’t sharply contoured, its edges blur and drift. It’s none of these things as much as it is any of them.

All of that makes this film difficult to watch, and more difficult to parse. It’s not that it’s uninterpretable, but rather that it creates so much friction in how its contrast is presented. And yet, by presenting the film’s narrative from this other-wordly, disturbing perspective so devoid of human-ness, it actually serves (counter-intuitively) to provide a sense of understanding for what being human means, for better or worse.

Mica Levi’s score is haunting and expertly utilized, and the surreal visuals will surely leave an indelible imprint well after the credits roll. I find myself drawn to this new wave of science fiction – films like Upstream Colour, Moon and even Her – where ideas, feelings and impressions are just as compelling as characters and set pieces. It marks a return to the mastery of the likes of Kubrick, unapologetically ambitious and defiantly unique.

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