LISTEN TO MICA LEVI’S ‘UNDER THE SKIN’ SOUNDTRACK.

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STREAMING NOW ON PITCHFORK ADVANCE

Under the Skin’s Jonathan Glazer and Mica Levi
After building a reputation for retina-rattling music videos including Radiohead’s “Karma Police” and UNKLE’s “Rabbit in Your Headlights” in the 1990s, Jonathan Glazer has charted a fascinatingly perilous career as a feature director over the last 14 years. The British filmmaker followed up 2000’s brilliantly foul-mouthed crime drama Sexy Beast  with 2004’s Birth, an unsettling meditation on loss that drew controversy for both its frustrating narrative tics as well as a notorious bathtub scene between Nicole Kidman and an 11-year-old boy.

His third film, Under the Skin, which arrives in theaters this Friday, heads into even more challenging territory. Loosely based on Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name, the quasi-thriller follows an alien occupying the form of a young Scottish woman played by Scarlett Johansson in a cheap wig and heavy makeup. After capturing and grotesquely murdering a multitude of men for sustenance, the foreign body starts to sense its human self and feel the pangs of consequence. Visually intense, the film carries moments of beauty, brutality, and pure obfuscation: There’s very little dialogue uttered during Under the Skin‘s 107-minute runtime, and Glazer’s unconventional shooting methods—many of the “victims” captured by Johansson’s character were non-actors whose exchanges with the well-disguised star were shot on hidden cameras—give the film a uniquely roughshod feel.

As recently chronicled in The Guardian, the decade-long process of making Under the Skinwas arduous and mentally taxing for Glazer; there were endless plot reconfigurations, including a scrapped narrative involving aliens masquerading as Scottish farmers that at one point had Brad Pitt attached to star. “The creative process for this film was immersive and exhaustive,” Glazer tells me during a recent phone conversation. “And talking about it is weird, because when you’re making a film, part of you thinks it’s not going to see the light of day. It’s almost as if you’re making it for yourself.”

While the behind-the-scenes struggles aren’t easily sensed while taking in Under the Skin‘s chilly, inhuman atmosphere, plenty of on-screen tension is provided by Mica Levi’s mesmerizing score, which is now playing in full via Pitchfork Advance. Levi is best-known for her work heading up build-and-break avant-popsters Micachu and the Shapes, but her work for Under the Skin is something else entirely. The strings sometimes resemble nails going down a universe-sized chalkboard, screaming with a Ligeti-like sense of horror; elsewhere, they endlessly drone in a gaping vortex, like Vangelis’ iconic Blade Runner score dipped in turpentine.

Pitchfork

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