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FLIX: 'Under the Skin'

By BY JOE FRIAR
April 23, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated April 22, 2014 at 11:23 p.m.

Scarlett Johansson in a scene from "Under the Skin."

•  CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Robert J. Goodwin, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Paul Brannigan, Krystof Hadek, Michael Moreland

• DIRECTOR: Jonathan Glazer

• NOW SHOWING AT: Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro, San Antonio; Sundance Cinema, Houston; AMC First Colony 24, Houston; Violet Crown Cinema, Austin; Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane, Austin

"Under the Skin" opens like a Stanley Kubrick film, but instead of a monolith, we see an eyeball as it slowly makes its way toward an oval opening.

The scene is followed by a guy on a motorcycle speeding through the countryside in Scotland, where he stops to pick up the body of a dead female.

Minutes later, we see a nude Scarlett Johansson removing the clothes from the dead girl in a solid black room where the contrasting floor is white and lit from underneath.

These are all visually striking images that happen in succession without any dialogue, accompanied by a haunting and minimal score by Mica Levi that later in the film is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann's frantic notes in Hitchcock's "Psycho."

Johansson, with pitch-black hair, bright red lips and a pale face, spends the majority of the film with this blank, hypnotic look on her face, driving around in a van picking up men.

She's very selective, always asking if they have a family or a girlfriend.

Those that make it through the question-and-answer session are then given a ride back to a home where they are seduced by Johansson as she removes one article of clothing at a time.

The men all follow a few steps behind as she continues to walk while she strips. With each step the guy takes, he starts to sink further into the floor until he is chin-deep in a thick, black liquid. The men that you see Johansson picking up are not actors, and a hidden camera was used to film their reactions.

After they were picked up, they were told what was going on and given the chance to continue with the scene and partake in the film.

Director Jonathan Glazer ("Sexy Beast") has created a science-fiction masterpiece that plays not only like a Kubrick film, but certain scenes are also evocative of David Lynch. It is an instant cult classic that will be discussed for quite some time and the first film from Glazer in nine years.

In many ways, this film plays more like an experimental piece than your typical sci-fi thriller.

But just like the alignment of the planets, everything seems to come together, from a great performance by Johansson to an original story line to a film filled with fascinating images and the perfect score.

STARS: 4 1/2

Joe Friar is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society, juror at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival (VTXIFF) and host of the Breakfast Buzz morning show on Hit Radio 104.7. Contact Joe at jfriar95@gmail.com.

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