Released in early 2014, Under the Skin is perhaps the most remarkable feature film to have used Glasgow both as a filming location and a setting. Remarkable not least in that – despite being a science fiction movie and starring one of the biggest names in Hollywood – it presents the city at its most pedestrian.
Contemporary Glasgow is captured without grim gangland violence or sunny comedic romance – we hear snippets of everyday conversations and see real Glaswegians heading to work, shopping, enjoying nightlife and going to the football. Change is handed over the counter in Greggs; ladies try on makeup in John Lewis; a Big Issue is bought outside Oran Mor, where “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” is advertised.
This snapshot of Glasgow life is so genuine due to director Jonathan Glazer’s hidden camera approach to the production – filmed discreetly from a distance and with Scarlett Johansson disguised in a dark wig, the star was able to walk among crowds in busy locations like Buchanan Galleries and the Trongate without passersby batting an eyelid.
The reason for the sorties by Johansson’s unnamed alien character is to seek out single men to seduce and ultimately kill for some presumed mission that is never explained. The film is incredibly atmospheric – I was naturally drawn to this feature due to the filming in Glasgow, but wintry scenes shot on Scotland’s east coast, in the Highlands and in nearby locations like Wishaw and Port Glasgow are equally striking. An eerie soundtrack and limited conversation throughout the movie complete the atmosphere.
There’s a particular scene in Under the Skin which is one of the most intense – and I would go as far as saying distressing – moments I have seen in film, and despite some pretty disturbing imagery of the alien nature elsewhere this particular scene revolves around something that could ultimately be an everyday occurrence. I won’t give anything further away but I am sure anyone who has seen the movie will know the bit I mean. If you haven’t seen Under the Skin… see it.