Monday 24 March 2014


(Jonathan Glazer, 2013)

Part shudder, part sigh, Glazer's adaptation of Michel Faber's blackly satirical novel is not quite like any other film I've seen.
It follows an alien in the form of a young woman (Scarlett Johansson, always underplaying and correspondingly magnetic) as she drives a van around a grey, Autumnal Scotland on the hunt for lone men. She lures them back to a dilapidated house on the edge of Glasgow, where they are swallowed by a black liquid which seems to turn them into empty skin-bags. Another alien, in the form of a mute motorcyclist, monitors her activities, tidying up the occasional mess in ruthless fashion. But after an encounter with a disfigured young man, she appears to change, softening in her attitude to the people surrounding her, putting her mission at risk.
That makes the plot sound straightforward, which it never really is. Nor is it really the point. Instead, Glazer immerses us in a visceral mindfuck. That begins with the slow opening reveal of an eyeball being constructed in minute detail, Mica Levi's hypnotic, often disturbing soundtrack grinding on the nerves. The scenes of Johansson on the streets and in the clubs and shopping centres of Glasgow were largely shot with hidden cameras, and there are long montages of ordinary people walking, getting on with their quotidian business, unaware of any camera. Men chat to Johansson, oblivious to her celebrity, plainly shocked by her exoticism and beauty.
This conjures up a heavily atmospheric fog of place; somewhat reminiscent of Tavernier's Death Watch (also set in a crumbling Glasgow), Glazer teases it by juxtaposing these scenes with the bizarre sci-fi sequences. The scene where we follow a man down into the black pool and he watches as another victim implodes is horrifying, yet, like so much here, absolutely beautiful. All of this combines to create a dreamlike mood - Johansson moves through the real world, curiously removed from it, always watching, rarely understanding, her curiosity slowly awakening.  Her alien consciousness is thus implicit - we are seeing this world as she sees it, and it is flat, odd, abstract, and oddly, surprisingly beautiful, even at its ugliest.
And there are many haunting scenes - the scene where she watches a family die on a beach, the child left wailing. Her encounter with the disfigured man, tentative and sad in a way nothing else here is. Her interlude with a kind stranger. The final shot, of snow falling towards the camera.
Glazer is a visionary, something made increasingly clear with each film, and his control of atmosphere and texture is precise and beautifully utilised. Levi's sensational score and Daniel Landlin's lovely cinematography don't hurt.
This is a unique film; eerie, mysterious, stunning, unforgettable. It is still with me , vividly, a day later, something which rarely happens with modern films.

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