Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin.
A24/Everett Collection

Only once every 10 years or so does Jonathan Glazer emerge from his secret Batcave of genius to bestow a picture upon us, and it’s usually an unnerving one. In his shivery, unshakable science-fiction reverie Under the Skin, adapted from a novel by Michael Faber, Scarlett Johansson plays an alien with no name, a killer who has come to earth to prey upon men for some unspoken, sinister purpose. She seduces them not just with her amphora shapeliness, but also with her milk-and-honey voice, with eyes that say, “I’m listening to you,” only to lure them—literally—into a pool of something that looks like inky black oil. They sink and disappear into a suggested erasure of the self, which somehow—Glazer never explains it—serves the needs of Johansson’s alien race. Meanwhile, Mica Levi’s teeming-insect score further frays our nerve endings.

And then Johansson victimizes a young man (played by Adam Pearson) with a facial disfiguration, and something cracks in her alien brain: Would it be possible for her to live as a human? It’s at this point that Under the Skin becomes less sinister and more about some unnamable, universal longing, apparently one that stretches across galaxies. But by then, you’re following Glazer anywhere he cares to lead you, with both trust and trepidation.

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