Book vs. Movie: Under the Skin

Movie poster for Under the SkinI finally had a chance to watch Under the Skin and it’s an interesting adaptation of the book by Michel Faber (see my post on the book here). The movie was directed by Jonathan Glazer and stars Scarlett Johansson. As is typical, while there were quite a few things that I liked about the movie, there were definitely some differences from the book:

  • Isserly is way too pretty in the movie version. They would have had to do some serious makeup and changes on Scarlett Johansson in order to “dumb her down” to the level of Isserly in the book. However, the change works. Isserly’s job, after all is to be able to attract men, and who are we to question what kind of scientific talents the aliens have in body modification. This change in her appearance may also have allowed for the discarding of the “icpathua” needles in the seat of the car, since it is much more likely that her prey will be cooperative.
  • The setting of the movie is more suburb or city scenes, rather than rural highways and a farm. Glazer’s choice of using real-time interactions with people in the final film would probably have made picking up hitchhikers pretty unsustainable for filming. I think that this change actually makes the premise more believable than cruising for guys on the highway.
  • Because there is not much dialogue and no narrative, it becomes much less clear what exactly the aliens are up to. However, the abductions are still pretty creepy, even without the backstory from Faber’s book, and while the movie loses quite a bit of the original meaning it is still scary.
  • There is an added, longer interaction between Isserly and a human male, and I guess it can be argued that he takes some pains to take care of her. This situation ultimately sets the stage for the ending of the movie, but I do think the true impact of what is going on here may be a little unclear unless you have read the book.
  • The movie ends at a different point and in a quite different manner than the book. Partly, I think this is because Isserly’s motivation cannot be communicated to the viewer, so keeping with the original ending doesn’t really make sense. However, the choices made here still provide an impact, and the final scenes of Isserly’s true form are good.

NOTE: Possible spoilers follow.

So, changes aside, there were several things about the movie that I liked:

  • The music choices worked for me. Music plays a very minimal part in the movie overall, which fits with the rest of the techniques, but the use of the mainly heavy, sultry bass riffs when Isserly has secured the men in her lair, plays well with the seductiveness of her character.
  • Isserly’s creepy and completely black lair. This is an interesting aspect, not only because of the quicksand like floor that sucks down Isserly’s prey while she walks lightly on top, but also because the guys actually follow her into this decrepit building with basically no lighting! (Most of me wants to believe that this is not something that would really happen. Sigh.)

Man getting sucked down into the floor of Isserly's lair

  • The extremely disturbing beach drowning scene. This scene definitely captures the complete lack of empathy that both Isserly and her weird helpers have for the human race. Watching her reactions to the situation is bad, but watching both her and and the helpers walk past the crying toddler is worse.
  • The addition of Isserly picking up a deformed man and actively working to seduce him was extremely disturbing. It’s not quite clear, but it seems that she may have later regretted this and released him before he could be “processed”, and it looked like this could have been a turning point for her in gaining empathy with those she is hunting.

The basic themes that run through the book have to do with empathy and sexuality. In the movie, these are still present, but they have been streamlined and are communicated in ways that, due to the lack of dialogue or narrative, require a little additional thought process by the viewer. Capturing the additional ideas in the book specifically surrounding empathy for food sources, would have required much more time and a different approach. I think that what we get from the movie version is a different, but no less interesting portrayal of Isserly. Throughout most of the movie, she comes across as much more capable and calculating than Faber had portrayed her. She is a more sexualized being who is wielding that aspect of herself with a much more sure hand than Faber’s character, but then her physical appearance is also much more in line with the typical human stereotypes.

I liked the overall minimalism of the movie and the way that Glazer has managed to capture the disturbing nature of Faber’s work. If you are into the weird, you might want to give this one a viewing.

This Final Girl is Different: Part 1 – You’re Next

Poster from You're NextRecently I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite slasher movies from the past few years, and I noticed that a common theme is with movies where the final girl is a little different than the trope has traditionally portrayed her. It can be her skills, wiles, looks, motivation, or a combination of these things, but she is definitely doing more than just running and hiding. By and far, I would have to rate You’re Next as my favorite slasher film of recent time, and while the final girl is part of the reason why this is a great movie, there are a few other things that help it stand out, as well:

  • Animal masks and combat wardrobe for the invaders. The masks from this movie remind me of that glimpse you get in Kubrick’s The Shining of the weird costume ball. This creepiness combined with the fact that these guys are shooting arrows into the house, smashing through windows, and slinging machetes around makes for a pretty disturbing situation.
  • The interesting soundtrack that basically combines repetition of The Dwight Twilley Band’s song, “Looking for the Magic”, with giallo type synthesizer interludes is effective and haunting. That song was stuck in my head for days after the movie and it’s actually still there pretty frequently.
  • In another gesture toward The Shining there is the bloody writing on the walls and patio doors letting the captives know exactly who will be next. There is a lot of blood to write with, so this is not a problem for the killers.You're Next written in blood on the wall
  • The fragile, prescription dependent mother, Aubrey, played so excellently by Barbara Crampton. (“Why is mom in the driveway crying?”) She helps set up a nice contrast with Erin, Sharni Vinson’s character: upper vs. lower class, weak vs. strong female.
  • The overall family dynamics of the situation are just interesting. There is the likeable brother, Crispian (A.J. Bowen), bringing Erin home to meet his family. Then there is the suckup older brother, the younger sister who is overly weight conscious, the younger brother who is a bit avant garde with his oddly named girlfriend (“Zee”), the father who has recently retired from a job with a high powered private military company, and the aforementioned shaky and slight mother.

Sharni Vinson wields an axe in You're Next

NOTE: From here on there may be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, and don’t want to know too much, be forewarned.

Erin, is set up early in the film to be the final girl. She’s the one that is different – outside the family, from a different class, and basically sane. When the invasion starts, she remains calm, assesses the situation, and makes recommendations that will help save lives. It quickly becomes clear that she’s a survivor. However, Erin isn’t just a survivor. She’s not just running away from the attackers, or hiding to try to avoid them. Erin soon proves extremely adept at setting traps around the house, is more than able to locate usable weapons within the house with which to arm herself and others, and can then wield those weapons with a death dealing frenzy. She also knows first aid and is able to calm down and protect others.

When it becomes clear that she has been involved in the situation purposefully, she doesn’t break down and cry. She also doesn’t just forgive and forget. She is capable and willing to take her revenge. But is it really revenge, or is she actually just protecting the world from a freaking psychopath? This final girl has guts, smarts, physical strength, and chutzpah, and the way she uses her wiles makes her a different kind of survivor.

So, if you haven’t watched this slasher movie yet, I highly recommend it as an example of how the genre and the final girl trope are morphing into something new and interesting.