Film4: PREMIERE Thursday 1 October, 10.45pm
Sitting alert behind the wheel of a white van, Scarlett Johansson stares at the people in the streets of Glasgow. In a shopping mall, she doesn’t so much mingle as encircle. An alien predator in search of prey. Johansson acts like she’s in a David Bowie movie. But is it The Man Who Fell to Earth or The Hunger? Bits of both, it turns out. The sense of dislocation is all-pervasive in Jonathan Glazer’s stark sci-fi drama, a boldness of approach that’s ultimately more remindful of Nicolas Roeg than Tony Scott.
The unsettling tone is set at the start by an ambient soundtrack and a prologue that looks like planets coming into allignment. Or perhaps the hole in a doughnut. It’s actually the formation of a human eye, and Scarlett’s the chameleon luring lonely victims into a dingy house where they’re turned inside out into slurry after walking erect into the void. There’s a Lynchian strangeness to these scenes, cruelty too, when a man with a severe facial deformity is shown faux kindness by Johansson.
Not all of her attempts at human assimilation are so successful. She chokes on chocolate cake, sex doesn’t go so well either. And her face is a picture of utter incomprehension at a Tommy Cooper clip on the TV: “Spoon-jar, jar-spoon.” Her inability to process what she’s seeing is brought into a stark relief in a dramatic scene at the beach, where she’s unaware of the tragedy unfolding in front of her. During her small-talk enticements, her smile fades as her face drops.
It’s largely persuasive, thanks to Johansson’s eerily discreet portrayal of an otherworldly entity, a remarkably subtle performance considering she’s basically a mannequin. We see everything from her/its perspective, although Glazer shows little interest in explaining it, never mind understanding it. And what to make of what she/it sees? That’s us, lest we forget.