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.

The Children of Old Leech: A Collection of Stories in Tribute to Laird Barron

Cover of The Children of Old LeechIf you have seen some of my previous posts, you may know that I am a huge fan of Laird Barron. Out this month is The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron. The book is a compilation of short stories written in the vein of Barron’s work and features a superb cast of authors.

The book starts off with an eerie morsel from Gemma Files called “The Harrow,” in which an amateur archaeologist uncovers a number of mysterious artifacts in the yard of her new house. More greatness follows. “Pale Apostle” by J.T. Glover and Jesse Bullington takes place in a deteriorating import/export house, where a particular package contains more than the proprietors bargained for. And, I especially enjoyed “Walpurgisnacht” by Orrin Grey, which is a celebration of darkness complete with a remote castle, a mysterious film, and a gathering of people who have been invited to the show of the ages.

If you are a fan of Barron’s remote and creepy forests, there are several stories that feature this setting. For example, “Learn to Kill” by Michael Cisco incorporates a feeling of ancient alienness that is often found in Barron’s own remote populations, as the narrator faces a merciless corruption of his own body. Richard Gavin’s truly scary entry, “The Old Pageant,” recounts the aftermath of a terrifying story told to a child. And, Stephen Graham Jones‘s “Brushdogs” shows us how easy it can be to simply step from one world to the next.

There are also a few stories that are presented in the form of correspondence or diary entries. Molly Tanzer’s story, “Good Lord, Show Me The Way,” is presented in a collection of emails surrounding the mysterious disappearance of a student conducting research for her dissertation. In “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild'” by Paul Tremblay, we are allowed to read the diary of a man who set out in search of The Black Guide and found … something. And, in “The Woman in the Wood” by Daniel Mills, we are provided with entries from a centuries old diary where a boy recounts his experiences with a mysterious and dangerous woman.

Many of the stories managed to take on different settings and character types that, while different, still complement the overall feeling of Barron’s work. Jeffrey Thomas’s “Snake Wine” takes us to the world of an ex-pat in Vietnam who becomes entangled with a young woman who wields a deadly elixir. An almost psychedelic tone backs T.E. Grau’s “Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox,” whose fantastic guru turns out to be worshipping more than just a magical high. Michael Griffin introduces us to an interesting and ancient ritual performed by an elusive cult in “Firedancing,” and we get a peek into a strange future in Allyson Bird’s “The Golden Stars at Night,” one in which our existence is fragile and not necessarily assured. In Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.’s “The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays,” a couple of guys deliver some very strange books to a reclusive older gentleman, with macabre Nazi ties. John Langan’s “Ymir” provides a new twist on some old characters from more mainstream mythology, while Cody Goodfellow adds a sort of mad scientist twist to his not so mainstream gladiatorial story, “Of a Thousand Cuts.” The collection finishes up on an appropriately creepy note with a pair of drifters, in Scott Nicolay and Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay’s “Tenebrionidae,” who end up taking the ride of their lives.

Editors Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele have put together a really great collection of short stories and, while the stories here definitely do justice to the flavor of Barron’s cosmos, they are also much different than anything you are likely to have read before. Find out more and score your copy now at Word Horde.