The opening sequence of Under the Skin is a pastiche of shape and colour, with faint babble in the background. It encompasses the beginnings of form, language and the creation of the eye; setting the scene for what develops into a transcendental piece of cinema.
The unnamed alien protagonist prowls Scotland in search of men, preying on them as coldly as possible. She is the observer, untouchable. Her remorseless is demonstrated in a disturbing scene where she casually abandons an orphaned infant. She is an outsider whose ability to charm men is both her asset and only advantage. Then, she makes the human mistake of tripping over, and everything falls apart. The film asks us whether one can imitate a woman without becoming one, and the more the alien tries to fight her body, the more it seems to engulf her. She begins to awkwardly demonstrate her vulnerability – perhaps unwillingly. And the more she feels at home in her female skin, the more unsafe she is. Skin becomes a motif which is threaded throughout the film, each time reminding us that what is on the surface is sometimes all that anyone can see.
In terms of presentation, Under the Skin derives a sense of genuine humanity from improvised acting by unwitting persons. Scotland is a muted hell, a “nowhere” where people can disappear, both figuratively and literally. The bleak landscape creates a disquieting atmosphere, aided greatly by Mica Levi’s fantastic score. Most impressively, Under the Skin subverts expectation with some bewildering and sensual scenes that are abstract enough to provoke questions, but centred enough to anchor the film in one place. There is a focus here from open to close, resulting in a very complete, if equivocal, piece of cinema.