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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Under the Skin

July 14th, 2014

Under the Skin - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson, which gave the film a lot more star power than most limited releases have. On the other hand, the premise was a little out there, so much so that it really never had a shot at expanding significantly. It managed $2.5 million, which is great, especially considering so far this year only three limited releases have topped $10 million (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Chef, and very recently Belle). Does the film work as an art house film? Will it please more mainstream audiences?

The Movie

This is a confusing film to talk about. I could tell you what happens, but what happens and when doesn't make a whole lot of sense until we learn what it means. At first, we just see a man on a motorcycle driving around until he pulls over on the side of the road. He walks off an embankment into the darkness and when he returns, he's carrying the body of a dead woman on his shoulders. He puts her in the back of a van and in the next scene we see the dead woman on the ground and a live naked woman standing above her. The live woman then strips the dead woman naked and steals her clothing. Then you realize the live woman looks identical to the dead woman.

Like I said, it doesn't make a lick of sense when you first see what happens.

We then see this woman drive around Scotland lost, eventually asking for directions. (I believe it is 13 minutes into the movie before there is any dialogue.) She eventually gets to talking to one of the men and offers him a lift. They talk for a bit... and she drops him off. This happens again. And again. Eventually she flirts with one enough to convince him to come home with her. When they get to her place, they begin to undress, with the guy not noticing they are in a completely empty and very black room. He sinks into the floor and disappears.

I don't know if that's a spoiler or not, but I'm going to err on the side of caution and end the plot summary there.

Under the Skin is an art house film. There's no way around that. Depending on your point of view, this could be a compliment or an insult. If you are part of the latter group, you won't be surprised to learn the movie has pacing issues and "pretentious" is a term that certainly applies here. On the other hand, the film is very surreal, unique, and very memorable. It uses the Sci-fi elements in a way that is not easy to digest, but works as an allegory for human relationships, or the loneliness of not connecting with others. There are a lot of expertly crafted shots that look highly artistic, as well as many that capture the Scottish streets in a very naturalistic way. Scarlett Johansson gives a great performance that is in some ways akin to her recent performance in Her.

I'm not 100% sold that the film would work on repeated viewings. I'm nearly 100% sure that most mainstream audiences will like the film a lot less than critics did. That said, if you like surreal Sci-fi, it is worth checking out at least once.

The Extras

There is only one menu item under the extras, Featurettes, but there are more than 40 minutes of featurettes on various topics. The average length is only 4 minutes, so some of them are not as in-depth as I would like, but overall it is worth checking out. I really would have liked more extras, on the other hand.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but given the number of scenes filmed with cameras small enough that the non-actors didn't see them, I doubt that the film will look great when compared to most first-run releases.

The Blu-ray costs $22, or about 50% more than the DVD. That's a bit too much to ask for.

The Verdict

Under the Skin is a confusing but engaging movie that has a surreal Sci-fi edge to it. It is clearly aimed at an art house crowd, so if you are not into that style, it might be best to stay away. Neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray are loaded with extras, while the latter costs more than the former by a considerable margin.

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Filed under: Video Review, Under the Skin, Her, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Scarlett Johansson