M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Four of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2013 and going through September 30, 2014. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2013 and September 30, 2014 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on July 15, 2014. Available on Netflix, digital download, On Demand, and DVD/Blu-ray!
UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Written by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer (screenplay), Michel Faber (novel)
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Joe Szula, Krystof Hádek, Roy Armstrong, Alison Chand, Ben Mills, Oscar Mills, Lee Fanning, Paul Brannigan,
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
UNDER THE SKIN is an ambitious film unlike any I’ve ever seen. The film is obtuse, open for interpretation, and utterly patient as far as storytelling, and while it is definitely a film I am glad I saw, I know it’s definitely not going to be a film for everyone.
UNDER THE SKIN follows an alien that wears the skin of a human who assumes the form of another alien lying dead on the side of the road (both played by Scarlett Johansson). Aided by a mysterious biker who seems to be the alien’s guardian of sorts, the alien steals the clothing of a prostitute and then drives around Scottish countrysides and suburbs picking up random individuals and harvesting them for what looks to be their skins.
There’s more to UNDER THE SKIN. The film is actually quite nuanced, but for many, I think it’ll be hard for folks to stick with the film in order to see just what transpires. Moving at a snail’s pace, the alien picks up one person after the next, taking part in the same ritual over and over which entails the alien (Johansson) disrobing as she walks across a mirrored black floor. Behind her, follows her victim who, thinking he’s going to have him some sexy time, who disrobes as well, one article of clothing at a time. What the victim doesn’t notice is that he is sinking into the floor and soon sinks completely into the mirrored surface and disappears. This scene is repeated numerous times through the movie, revealing a little more info about what’s going on every time it occurs. But even after we find out what happens to the victims under the surface, it’s still not completely clear.
Now, I’m not someone who needs everything explained to me. The surreality of this ritual was engrossing for me. Sure it’s awesome to see Johansson disrobe over and over, but the reflective surfaces, mixed with the bizarre gravity of the situation and the hypnotizing music make it all feel as if I was witnessing some type of upside down dream through the eyes of something that doesn’t follow by the same rules of physics as I do. Director Jonathan Glazer who offered up his fair share of memorable imagery in SEXY BEAST, tops himself and then some with this visual smorgasbord. Glazer channels his inner Kubrick as everything about the opening and these erotic death sequences feel as if they are the next evolution of the visuals seen in 2001: A SPACE ODDYSEY. From the long silences to the unnatural music used, the film feels as if it were some kind of long-lost film Kubrick hid away and Glazer found.
Now story wise, I think the film comes up a bit lacking as it’s not until an hour in that we really see anything resembling a conflict in need of a resolution as Johansson starts feeling some kind of empathy for her victims. Those with little patience will definitely have tuned out by then. Johansson is amazing in the role, offering up an inscrutable façade for most of the film and shifting this look only slightly once she begins to realize what she is doing might be wrong when she picks up a man who is terribly deformed. Still, even when the emotions start to creep in, Johansson plays it pretty blank, emoting only in small ticks and quivers. Yes, there has been much said about her nakedness in this film and those scenes are bound to excite men and women alike, but her performance here is much more nuanced than sheer cheesecake and shows a talented actress under all of that sexy exterior. I was surprised at how much she says simply with her eyes alone as much of this film is following her silently pursuing her victims, while the other half is her running away from the chaos she has caused.
One thing that needs to be mentioned here is the music of the film by Mica Levi who makes everything feel unnatural and gives every scene its own theme song. The crude yet sexy music that showcases the grotesque way Johansson lures in her victims feels as if it were made by instruments made on another planet. Reminiscent of the soundtrack to THE SHINING, the off kilter feeling I got while watching this film had a lot to do with the musical accompaniment. While I’m not one to notice soundtracks that often, Levi makes the music another character that lingers in the dark corners of every frame and tells us more about Johansson’s alien that she ever does in words.
The ending, when it does arrive at just shy of the two hour mark, is intense. Again, as Glazer did throughout, it is filled with shots I had never experienced before. It is a quiet, yet utterly deafening barrage of imagery and sensations. It takes things to a logical place, though the rest of the film feels highly foreign to logic and resolves things in a tragic and awful manner. UNDER THE SKIN got a lot of press because of Johansson’s nudity, but that’s the least interesting part of the film. What really makes it work is the unique eye of Glazer and the bizarre story by Michel Faber. At times, it’s so grotesque you’re going to want to turn away, but the inundation of sights and sounds are going to grip those who stick with UNDER THE SKIN so tightly you will never forget it.
THE 2013-2014 COUNTDOWN!
#3 – UNDER THE SKIN
#4 – ENEMY
#5 – HONEYMOON
#6 – OCULUS
#7 – BLUE RUIN
#8 – THE GUEST
#9 – CHEAP THRILLS
#10 – HERE COMES THE DEVIL
#11 – PIECES OF TALENT
#12 – CRAWL OR DIE
#13 – TUSK
#14 – THE BUTTERFLY ROOM
#15 – FOUND
#16 – PLUS ONE
#17 – AS ABOVE SO BELOW
#18 – WILLOW CREEK
#19 – MACABRE
#20 – GRAND PIANO
#21 – RIGOR MORTIS
#22 – ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE
#23 – THE MACHINE
#24 – DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN
#25 – THE SACRAMENT
#26 – THE SEASONING HOUSE
#27 – THANATOMORPHOSE
#28 – DEVOURED
#29 – CONTRACTED
#30 – DISCOPATH
#31 – SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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