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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 38.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Scarlett Johansson morphs into a sexy, unknowable alien in Under the Skin
Out of this world
on
Hard to like, easy to lust after.
Hard to like, easy to lust after.

Scarlett Johansson is occasionally nude: That's all some moviegoers need know about Under the Skin. They're in for a surprise, though: This is easily the most unique science-fiction movie to hit theaters in years.

Jonathan Glazer's near-wordless film isn't specifically a sci-fi picture, though. Although the title and some of the story come from author Michael Faber's 2000 novel, this is Glazer's most stylized and unnerving film since his feature debut, Sexy Beast. Johansson is a sexy alien beast on the prowl for earthmen, but not in a Mars Needs Women kind of way. In fact, Under the Skin never fully acknowledges that her nameless, virtually unknowable character is from another world. Co-written by the director and Walter Campbell, the script explains very little about this bizarre creature, much less its motives, which is part of the shuddersome fun. In some ways, Johansson mirrors her breathtaking vocal performance in Spike Jonze's Her, a film that examined our desires and fears about an entirely different type of alien species: technology.

What makes Under the Skin so mind blowing has everything to do with Johansson's chillingly un-empathetic character and cinematographer Daniel Landin's disorienting, hallucinogenic visuals. The icing on the cake is Johnnie Burn's sound design, which is well worthy of an Oscar nod. Add to that the sublime, unsettling score by Mica Levi and some startling visuals from U.K. effects house One of Us (Cloud Atlas, The Tree of Life) and you have a cinematic happening near-guaranteed to get under your skin -- and into your head -- for far longer than is comfortable. You don't so much watch this film as it watches you.

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