Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien who seduces and kills young men in Scotland in 'Under the Skin.' (StudioCanal)
Seductively eerie and serious, “Under the Skin” is superb science fiction, yet not for the easily bored or frustrated.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Laura, although her name is barely mentioned. She’s an alien dressed in the skin of a beautiful woman. For most of the film she drives around Edinburgh — where the Scottish accents can be so thick they might as well be speaking Russian — picking up and seducing young guys.
Why? To lure them back to her lair, where they will disappear into a black goo that leads to who knows where for some equally unknown purpose.
Such vagueness can be maddening, but not here. Director Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”), working from Walter Campbell’s script adapted from Michel Faber’s novel, is telling his movie from the point of view of the alien. We don’t really know what Laura’s doing because there’s no reason she would spell it out.
Luckily, Laura’s journey is mesmerizing enough to smooth the bumps. Johansson, in what is probably her best role yet (and that’s saying something), starts out icy and methodical, but slowly gives Laura a sense of curiosity about the creatures she’s murdering. She’s especially intrigued when she meets a disfigured young man; at first she doesn’t even notice — all these creatures look odd — but then her alien mind starts churning and questions are raised.
Those questions have to do with identity, beauty, purpose and certainly the power of gender, but there’s no way the alien Laura is going to understand these things in human terms. A direct descendant of Nicolas Roeg’s classic “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Under the Skin” is the kind of movie people will be talking about, and dissecting and puzzling over, for years.
'Under the Skin'
Rated R for graphic nudity, sexual content, some violence and language
Running time: 108 minutes