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What’s ‘Under the Skin’? Intrigue.

Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless woman who drives around in a van looking for men.
Scarlett Johansson plays a nameless woman who drives around in a van looking for men.A24

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“Under the Skin” has been dazzling and perplexing festival audiences since its one-two punch at Telluride and Toronto last fall, but, honestly, the film’s not that hard to figure out. What we have here is a pretty good “Twilight Zone” idea given a visionary midnight movie treatment by director Jonathan Glazer. What’s under the film’s surface is intriguing enough, but it’s the surface itself that holds you in a dark trance. A portrait of alienation filmed from the alien’s point of view — or is it just a woman’s? — the movie’s a cinematic Rubik’s Cube that snaps together surprisingly easily, yet whose larger meanings remain tantalizingly out of reach.

After a mystifyingly abstract opening sequence that seems designed to out-Kubrick Kubrick, “Under the Skin” comes to Earth — Scotland, to be precise — alongside a nameless woman (Scarlett Johansson) as she cruises the nighttime streets in a van, looking for men. When she’s alone, she stares vacantly ahead, a computer in sleep mode. As soon as she spots a likely lad, her features animate. She needs directions, or she’s having car trouble, or she’ll offer to give him a lift. She’s like the set-up for a dirty joke he’s sure to tell the boys about later.

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