‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’ is part of a long-running series created by Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience. It asks writers to pick their favorite frame of a movie and expand on how it represents the movie as a whole to him or her.’
Under the Skin is an intoxicating work. Jonathan Glazer’s film, loosely adapted from Michael Faber’s novel with Walter Campbell, is a strange detailing of one alien’s initial engagements with Earth and its inhabitants.
Everything about the film works masterfully and does so from the opening scene to the last. It’s near impossible to pick just one image that reflects my love and admiration of Under the Skin. What kept popping in my brain though was that opening scene. Before we are introduced to Scarlett Johansson’s curious, dangerous and arguably innocent life-form, at least in Johansson flesh, Glazer gives us a chilly blackness. There is no light and only the faintest hint of any activity at all; slivers of Mica Levi’s score pulsating in the background. A mild glimmer of light takes up the center of the screen. It shines in the emptiness for a little while, Levi’s music humming alongside. Suddenly, the glimmer goes wide, echoing through the blank canvas. The image is almost blinding, the kind of white light that hurts to look at straight-on.
At home, this shot might seem miniscule. Yes, it hints at the transitions to come, as the birth of our protagonist is shaped. This light turns into an eye. Those sounds flow into a voice.
In a theatre, pitch black for all but the emergency exits, this flip from a stark canvas to a brazen luminosity was intimidating. It was as if Glazer and his cinematographer Daniel Landin were daring you to look at the screen dead-on. This was not an experience in which to idly partake. The suddenness of the moment is meant to push you back; a jab used to test a viewer’s conceit of comfort and expectation.