Dark, daring but dangerously abstract
Under The Skin Blu-ray Review
If you know nothing about the film beyond the fact that ScarJo gets rather unabashedly naked in it then prepare to be surprised, and not necessarily in a good way.Courting almost equal critical acclaim and confused controversy, this indie effort has slipped under the radar of many, but for the unrestrained turn of its lead, however it has far more - and less - to offer than just that. Writer / Director Jonathan Glazer’s third feature – after his superb Ray Winstone / Ben Kingsley debut Sexy Beast and the less-well-received Nicole Kidman vehicle, Birth – is one of the most abstract low-budget features of late, following the likes of Monsters, Melancholia, Another Earth and, in particular, Upstream Colour in that it largely only uses its sci-fi elements as a backdrop for exploring other, more human concepts. Here Glazer manages to, quite convincingly, give us a look at the human condition as seen through outside eyes.To this end he drafts the help of Scarlett Johansson - who puts in arguably her most daring performance as the black widow-like man-eater at the heart of it all - and he delivers some exceptionally breathtaking visual imagery which, coupled with a haunting, intoxicating score, will likely prove arresting for even the most detached viewer. Unfortunately, whilst some of the imagery is striking – adopting the same indie variation on Malick-style cinematography as was seen in Upstream Colour – most of the film has been shot using hidden cameras and non-actors on the dirty, weather-beaten streets of Scotland, and the juxtaposition is jarring at best. Despite some promise, and some intriguing elements, between the unavoidably but unpleasantly misanthropic narrative and the distant, out-of-reach, slow-burner approach to storytelling here, the end result is still a somewhat unsatisfactory attempt at low-budget, avant-garde experimentalism.
What is Under The Skin Blu-ray Picture QualityStudioCanal’s Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release of Under the Skin sports a solid 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Although some shots from the film look absolutely stunning – visually opulent imagery that oftentimes evokes memories of the best that the genre has to offer, right up to and including masterpieces like 2001 – the majority has been filmed using hidden cameras on dreary Scottish streets, and comes sporting a plethora of visual digital issues (some intentional but most unavoidable) which, for most new releases, would be regarded as unforgivable.
At once staggeringly innovative and remarkably low-grade, the visuals are jarringly variable across the runtime.
You almost wish that the whole film was shot with the same clinical visual aesthetic as those key sci-fi elements, as natural lighting issues and, in particular low-level-lighting problems with night shoots do regularly threaten the integrity of the image. These guerrilla shots are softer, and far more grainy, giving a more documentary-style feeling to the feature, but also bringing banding and artifacting into the fold. Even though black levels are largely deep and seemingly limitless, they do eventually crumble under the pressure and, even the superior visual shots – like the opening sequence – still sports a hint of banding around the edges, leaving this a flawed video presentation, but one which certainly stays true to the material.
How Does Under The Skin Blu-ray SoundWhilst far from bombastic, Under The Skin’s precise and occasionally overhelming audio accompaniment, presented in glorious DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is perhaps the only element that truly accomplishes what is set out by the film’s title.
An astonishingly accomplished audio track immerses you in the more alien side to this atypical feature.
Dialogue is presented clearly and coherently throughout, but entirely plays in last place when compared to the rest of the elements. Indeed even the effects are limited to growling motorcycle engine noises, crashing waves and the strange ‘underwater’ activity of the alien environment. But the score transcends it all, the beating heart of the proceedings – quite literally at times – which is at once disconcerting and all-engulfing, taking a low-key approach to unnerving you and heightening the tension where the narrative and even the visuals are not always able to fully deliver.
Under The Skin Blu-ray ExtrasSporting 42-minutes' worth of Interviews, the disc is far from bare-bones. The 10 Interview-based offerings cover all of the key production elements: Camera, Casting, Editing, Locations, Music, Poster Design, Production Design, Script, Sound and VFX.
Is Under The Skin Blu-ray Worth BuyingPeppered with innovative ideas and stunning visuals, Under The Skin still remains disjointedly distant and unattainable. Whilst it sports a daring lead performance, and some interesting concepts, it takes too long to ultimately get nowhere.
Obscure and obtuse, Glazer tries a little too hard to keep you at arm's length from understanding his art.
This Region B-locked UK Blu-ray stays faithful to both the visuals and audio that accompany the feature, and provides a smattering of decent extras to round out the background into the production. Those intrigued should consider a rental, but few would be advised to make this a blind buy.
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