By Mark Olsen
7:00 PM EDT, August 30, 2013
Screening in a late-night time slot, the highly anticipated "Under the Skin" played for the first time on Thursday at the the Telluride Film Festival. Early word filtering back from some attendees immediately shorthanded the movie -- for better or worse -- as the "Scarlett Johansson naked alien movie."
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, who co-wrote the screenplay with Walter Campbell based on the novel by Michel Faber, the film finds Johansson prowling the Scottish highlands in a white van, seeking lonely men. To eat. Because she's a space alien. But of course. The film has been said to play out with a rigorously spare storytelling and visual style.
Perhaps due to its late-night screening, reviews seemed slow to emerge on Friday, with wildly divergent opinions percolating. Writing for Variety, Scott Foundas called it "undeniably ambitious but ultimately torpid and silly" as well as "outre enough to amass a small coterie of defenders."
For Hitfix, Gregory Ellwood called the film "a near-masterpiece" while declaring "it has some of the most haunting images of the year and features the bravest performance of Scarlett Johansson's career."
Making his feature debut in 2000 with "Sexy Beast," Glazer hasn't made a film in some nine years, since the 2004 Nicole Kidman-starring "Birth." Though not well regarded on its initial release, that film has grown in stature over time, not least because of Alexandre Desplat's haunting score and the late Harris Savides' remarkable cinematography.
This time out Glazer is working with cinematographer Daniel Landin, who has collaborated with Glazer on his music video work, as well as the young multi-instrumentalist and composer Mica Levi.
"Under the Skin" will next move on to festivals in Venice and Toronto. The film is entering the fall fest circuit without U.S. distribution, though it is tough to imagine that the film's style is so rigorous as to dampen the appeal and curiosity of Johansson as an interstellar succubus.
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