Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

April 15, 2014

CALLERI: From Britain with a warning, and a lot of style and talent

Niagara Gazette — Two new movies visit frightening aspects of the human condition. Both are from Great Britain, which may tell us something about the nature of creativity there.

Neither of these well-made works fit the happy and chatty mold. Occasionally, some filmmakers like to make waves, whereas others like to capture rage. “Under The Skin” takes science-fiction conventions and up-ends them. “Dom Hemingway,” is filled with anger and regret. Both have central performances that are outstanding.

An alluring Scarlett Johannson is called upon to be both seductive and enigmatic in “Under The Skin,” a hallucinogenic mystery that stands as one of the strangest, albeit most satisfying, films I’ve seen. It creates a rhythm that keeps you engaged, even as you’re thinking, this can’t be happening.

Johannson plays an extraterrestrial sent to Earth, specifically a bleak and atmospheric Scotland, to attract males of the species for what purpose we are not certain. Rain and mist hide the colors of urban life. Her robotic character seems to have no fear of danger, and certainly no fear of the dark. She works in concert with an equally danger-loving, fast-riding motorcyclist.

This beguiling woman trolls the streets of Glasgow in her van after dark and begins casual conversations with men who are walking to work, or home, or to a pub. Perhaps to nowhere in particular. She is beautiful, and some of the easily seduced men who do get into her vehicle are obviously ready to see how far they can get with her.

Unbeknownst to them, this soft-talking, all-powerful female already knows how far they’ll get. The men see sex in their future. She sees herself doing something else. She successfully tempts them to enter decrepit, abandoned buildings. As they take off their clothes and move towards her fully naked, the equally nude Johannson stands atop a black liquid that exists in a time and place no human has ever experienced. At one point, her character picks up a poor soul with a grotesquely deformed face. He has never known the gentle caress of any human being, let alone a woman. Soon he will.

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