It sure as hell got under mine. Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi horror is loosely adapted, or atmospherically distilled, by Walter Campbell from the 2000 novel by Michel Faber. The result is visually stunning and deeply disturbing: very freaky, very scary and very erotic. It also comes with a dog-whistle of absurdist humour that I suspect has been inaudible for some American reviewers on the international festival circuit so far.
The heroine is an alien predator at large in Scotland. Maybe you have to be a Scot, or anyway a Brit, to appreciate Glazer’s masterstroke in casting Scarlett Johansson as the exotic alien in humanoid form, with her soft London accent, tousled black wig and sexy fake fur, driving a knackered white van around the tough streets of Glasgow, picking up men. She winds down the passenger-side window, artlessly engages them in conversation, and takes them back to her place. Between encounters, she roams, gazing at streetscapes, and making them alien with that gaze – like a Craig Raine poem. At one stage, she and her van are surrounded by guys with Celtic scarves. She is the ultimate Rangers supporter.
There is pure situationist genius in the bizarre spectacle of sleek Johansson being placed in this context, with lots of hidden-camera shots of real passers-by in real Glasgow streets and real Glasgow shopping centres, all these people being coolly sized up and assessed for their calorific value. From these genuine crowds, professional actors will seamlessly emerge for dialogue scenes. You can never forget it is Johansson on the screen, and that is surely the point. A Hollywood A-lister is as much of an alien here as any extraterrestrial from a flying saucer. (The final credits reveal that as well as a personal assistant, Johansson had a “personal security” team. I wonder if they were called upon at any point.) Her alien is voluptuous, superbly insouciant, unaffected by her surroundings – though I think feeling the cold a tiny bit. She greets the stunned menfolk with an unreadably polite half-smile. This is how I imagine Elizabeth Taylor to have looked and behaved when Richard Burton first took her to Port Talbot.
Continue reading in The Guardian