Friday, January 23, 2015

Mini movie review: Under the Skin

To say that the recent movie Under the Skin is based on Michel Faber's novel of the same name is not quite accurate; "very loosely based on" would be more accurate.  Scarlett Johansson drives around Glasgow, picking up men, finding out if there is anyone who will miss them and then taking them back to her place.  She is not quite human, ScarJo's character, and there are nefarious ends for the men she picks up.  (And that is where the "very loosely based on" changes to "a whole different story, really.")

Divergence from the source material aside, Under the Skin is a wonderful little genre movie, beautiful and slow and creepy.  There is hardly any dialogue.  The music is atonal and alien, as though filtered through the main character's not-quite-human senses.  There is very little plot, although there is a clear beginning, middle and end to the story.  It is tense in parts, melancholy in others, awful and squicky in a couple more.  It appears that Scotland is a very grey and rainy place. And yes, this is the movie where ScarJo goes completely bare nekkid.  It is unmomentous and not played for titillation.  She has a very real woman's body: beautiful, yes, but hardly unrealistic.  And the way she wears this body, carefully, awkwardly, as though it doesn't exactly fit, is part and parcel of this role.

With Les Revenants, this movie is the second bit of visual media that is classified as genre but doesn't line up exactly as horror/science fiction/fantasy.  You don't need to have read the original novel to enjoy the movie version of Under the Skin but it is my recommendation that you do both, since the two make good companions, different as they are.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Just finished watching: Les Revenants

I just finished watching S1 of the French television series Les Revenants or, in subtitles (thank goodness because my French pretty much ended when I graduated from high school), The Returned.  I am of two minds about this horror-tinged show.  On the one hand, I found it interesting, well-acted, beautifully shot and gorgeously atmospheric.  On the other hand, I kept falling asleep.

In a nutshell, The Returned is set in a small town in the French Alps.  All of a sudden one day, some previously deceased townsfolk come back.  With as few spoilers as possible, they are: Camille, a fourteen year old girl who died with her classmates in a school bus crash four years ago; Simon, a sexy young rock-n-roller, who died ten years ago on his wedding day; Victor, a young boy who won't or can't say anything about his past; a local teacher's wife; and Serge, whose many issues have carried over from his life into his death.  These people all look just like they did when they died and don't remember anything about their deaths.  They are all ravenously hungry too - for regular people food, not tasty brains - and don't seem to sleep.  They return to their homes, or what used to be their homes, where the people they left behind are surprised to see them.  As you might imagine.

The series unfolds its stories slowly, taking its time with the characters.  It is wonderfully done, but it also asks all sorts of questions that it has no intention of answering and we as viewers just have to accept the open-endedness. Why these people?  Why not the rest of Camille's classmates?  Why do they look the same?  Why is the reservoir going down?  What do the returned want?  Even by the end of the first season, much remains unanswered.

There's apparently an American remake (of course there is) premiering on A&E in March.  I may have to check it out to see how it varies from what I just watched.  But don't shy away from the French original just because it has subtitles.  Les Revenants/The Returned is both haunting and frightening - two different things - and worth a watch.  Just don't doze off - the subtitles don't do much good that way.  (And if you stick around long enough, there's even a little bit of nicely icky body horror.  Fun!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mini book review: Under the Skin by Michel Faber

I haven't seen the Scarlett Johansson movie, Under the Skin, yet but when I learned that it was based on a novel of the same name by Michel Faber, I immediately pounced on the book.  SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

Out in the Scottish Highlands, not far from Inverness, Isserley cruises the roads, looking for hitchhikers.  English is not her native language.  She's scarred and stiff, big eyes magnified behind thick glasses.  She drives like an old lady and keeps the heat cranked high.  She's tiny, with uncomfortably stiff posture and big, voluptuous breasts.  She's choosy about whom she picks up: no women, nobody too skinny or too old or too young.  When she does pick up a hitchhiker, she talks to them, trying to discern if they have anyone at home, if anyone will miss them.  The men usually open up to her and most of them can't stop staring at her breasts.  Once she has learned enough about them, Isserley either drops the hitchhikers off, closer to their destinations, or drugs them into unconsciousness.

I'm not going to tell you what happens to the men after Isserley captures them - reading about it is all part of the [disturbing] fun of Under the Skin.  I will say that Faber does a wonderful job introducing his main character.  Even if you go into this novel not knowing anything, you know something is not quite right with Isserley.  But what is off is subtle: odd phrasing, her awkwardness, strange vocabulary.  I knew about Isserley from what little I know about the movie, but when it was finally stated outright, it was still a surprise.

There's not that much plot to follow in Under the Skin - it's more of following along on Isserley's journey with grotesqueries and some social commentary.  I haven't read anything by Faber since The Crimson Petal and the White, which I quite enjoyed as well.  Having read Under the Skin (book) and given what I know about the film, it is my understanding the movie is apparently "loosely based" on the source material.  I'm fine with that because I really liked the book and will be interested to see how they adapted it.