Review by Pamela Zoslov
It is an experience, all right, but not necessarily the kind most
viewers will embrace. The movie stars the ubiquitous Scarlett
Johansson as an alien who inhabits the body of a young woman and
roams the Scottish Highlands in a van, luring young hitchhikers to
their deaths. Not all of this plot exposition is obvious to the
audience, who after watching this highly abstract, nearly
dialogue-free film, may wonder what the hell it was all about. The
cinematography and effects are often mesmerizing, and were this a
film-school exercise or twenty-minute short for art class, it would
deserve an 'A.' But a theatrical film should not ask an audience to
watch an arty exercise for an hour-thirty-eight and essentially make
up its own story.
The movie is based on a popular macabre thriller by
Dutch-Australian author Michel Faber. Director Glazer called the
novel “a great book, but a trashy book,” and maybe his disdain
caused him to retain only the sketchiest outlines of the story and
make its heroine, Isserley, nameless and opaque. The book,
which I've only glanced through, is told largely from Isserley's
point of view. Johannson's alien is a pretty, dark-haired cipher who
speaks in an awful English accent, asking directions and offering
rides to various Glaswegian males, who can't believe their good luck.
(Interestingly, the young men are non-actors who were initially
unaware that they were being filmed. Kind of like BORAT.)
Ms. Alien drives each pick-up to a secluded setting, and the poor
sod's fate is depicted in a highly stylized manner. The men strip
naked and follow her beckoning, nude form, descending into a pool of
liquid. The staging of these scenes, with only the bodies of the men
and Johannson illuminated, is striking in the manner of modern dance
or performance art.
In another sequence, Johannson's character witnesses a drowning at
the beach, kills a would-be rescuer, and allows the drowning victim's
baby to cry helplessly on the beach. Apparently, this is meant to
demonstrate her lack of conscience. When Ms. Alien later picks up a
man with a severely deformed face and treats him kindly, I am told it
is supposed to illustrate her growing sympathy for the human race.
Who knew! None of these interpretations, mind you, is evident from
watching the film, nor is the ultimate purpose of her harvesting of
bodies revealed, as it is in the book.
The film is replete with stunning imagery – the gleaming
nighttime landscape as Johansson's character drives around hunting
prey; a wonderful time-lapsed sequence of an ordinary day on the
streets of Glasgow; strange, psychedelic depictions of the
transformations of the victims' bodies. It's not surprising that the
visuals are of a high order; Glazer is well known as a director of
stylish TV commercials and music videos. His approach to this
material — dispensing with clear narrative in favor of almost pure
abstraction — could be considered radical, or wrongheaded. I think
it's the latter. 2 out of 4 stars.