It's been 10 long years since director Jonathan Glazer's last film (2004's genre-defying romance, "Birth") but his latest proves to be every bit worth the wait. Based loosely on the novel by Michel Faber, "Under the Skin" stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form, prowling through Scotland looking for unassuming men to lure back to her lair, and ultimately to their doom. With a plot like that, the film could easily have been a mindless B-movie à la "Species," but Glazer transforms it into something significantly more unusual: a shockingly affecting story about lust, loneliness, and human nature. Enigmatic to the point of abstraction, the film contains minimal dialogue, crafting a narrative completely through its starkly beautiful images. It's a masterpiece of visual storytelling.
When we follow Laura (named only in the credits) as she goes on the hunt for victims, we're put directly into her headspace. The men speak in impenetrably thick accents, forcing us to rely on visual cues and body language to gauge what's being said (supposedly the naturalism of these scenes was achieved through the use of hidden cameras, and the men are all non-actors who were only told what was happening afterwards, if the interaction went well). Johansson anchors the film with a subtle, chilling performance that ranks among the actresses' best, and Mica Levi's harsh, atonal score adds to the unnerving tone of the film, inspiring dread in even its few mundane moments. Haunting, challenging, and certainly not for everyone, "Under the Skin" is one of the most provocative and original films of the past year.