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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Under the Skin
Under the Skin
Arrow Features // Unrated // February 12, 2002
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted May 17, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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I remember the first, and only other, time I saw Under the Skin (1997). It was one of those films I just stumbled upon late one night on a movie channel. I had no idea what it was about, who was in it, and just started watching it because I flipped onto the channel as the opening credits were rolling. In the opening shot Samantha Morton is nude, laying on a couch, drawing a cartoon face on her belly, her sweet voice in voiceover, her face reminded me of a bygone silent movie star, I gave it a chance and was soon sucked into watching the movie.

Sisters Rose (Claire Rushbrook- Secrets and Lies) and Iris (Samantha Morton- Jesus Son, In America) Kelly compete for the affections of their mum. Iris is the younger (Morton was 19 at the time of filming) and more free spirited, while Rose is a bit older, a married housewife expecting her first child. When their mother is suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor which quickly degrades her health, the two sister still find themselves fighting over their mother, only now it over caring for her. Following their mothers death, each sister is consumed by grief, most notably Iris, who begins to lose herself. Iris breaks up with her boyfriend, is fired from her job, and begins to indulge herself by sleeping with strangers sometimes with dangerous, degrading results.

Well, the death of a parent is a huge deal in most peoples lives. Just this weekend, I almost lost my father, right before my eyes, right there in my arms, when he had a near fatal reaction to a wasp sting. So, having spent some time in the emergency room and staring at my dad on the brink of death this weekend, it is a very fresh subject. You cannot help but identify yourself by the people who spawned you. Hell, I'm not just John Wallis, folks, I am John Wallis Jr.

Under the Skin addresses parental loss by way of Last Tango in Paris (though don't let the cover art or unrated nature fool you, the sex and nudity is fairly brief). Iris' loss consumes her in a way that she wraps herself in abandon, and she goes so far as to walk around wearing her mothers cancer wig and fur coat, literally subduing and hiding her true self. She attempts to fill a void she cannot recognize with sexual gradification. While the film also touches on Rose, Iris is the real focal point, and Morton delivers a star making performance that is bold in its subject matter and highly nuanced in character.

Like the works of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, the film is fixed in the pseudo-documentary, realistic drama style that fans of British cinema will no doubt recognize. The settings are in no way romanticized, and the look is full of grit and loose, hand-held camera work. Even as it delves into less than ordinary territory, the film is pretty low key. Honestly, without Morton's charisma and command of the psychology of Iris, the film probably wouldn't be worthwhile. In the same way you cannot help but think of Sissy Spacek and Carrie, or other actresses in signature roles, every time I see Morton I'm reminded of this film.

The DVD: Arrow

Picture: Non-anamorphic widescreen. Well, the film was intentionally shot with a very rough look. Yes, some if it is low budget, but it is material and a genre that is enhanced by raw film stock. When I first popped the disc in my computer, just to check it out, I thought it looked okay. However, while reviewing the film on my tv and main player, grain and roughness is far more apparent. Since the transfer is also not anamorphic, I'm going to assume this print is probably also a bit rougher than intended and the contrast, color, and sharpness elements could be improved.

Sound: Dolby 2 Channel. What raw British drama needs a DTS mix anyway? Really, the film doesn't need too much in the sound department, so the basic presentation here suffices. The only complaint I have isn't a technical one and has to do with the films score which sometimes veers into plunky meandering piano themes that I found distracting.

Extras:Trailer— Poster Gallery— Production Notes.

Conclusion: Hmmnnn. Good film. Mediocre transfer. I am a bit divided since though the transfer could be better, the film is good enough (and unlikely to be getting better treatment anytime soon) that I want to say "buy it" instead of "rent it". You be the judge; you know your wallet better than I do. Brit cinema fans will want to check it out, either as a casual purchase or a rental. Certainty belongs on the shelf next to the likes of Nil by Mouth and Naked.

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