Under the Skin (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I thought the British had given up on serious films, but this is one of those low budget cinema verite looks at a life in disintegration, presumably made by the only person in Britain without a sense of humor.

When their aging mum passes on, two English sisters react in very different ways. One externalizes her grief, cries it out, and moves on with life in a normal way. The other sister doesn't seem to manifest any grief at all, even seems to mock her sister for her emotional weakness, but under the skin she undergoes a personality transformation.

She descends into a dizzying spiral of drugs and sex, and we wonder whether she can pull up before crashing.

I think that there are two elements for which the movie may be recommended:


The first frame of the film contained Samantha showing full frontal nudity. She shows breasts and buns several times in the film, and has some good see/poke-throughs as well.

1. A close-to-the-bone performance from young Samantha Morton, who won several awards for this performance.

2. The dizzying spiral of sex is portrayed graphically and realistically, through the mind of the female participant. we hear her thoughts during sex. we hear her engaged in phone sex. We hear her graphic recollections of sexual experiences. And we see much of what transpires.

The performances are impressive, but I gotta say that after only an economical 85 minutes of running time, I was more than ready for this to be over, because it doesn't really go anywhere and I never could get involved with the characters. 


Under the Skin (1997) stars a 19 year old Samantha Morton as a young woman whose mother dies rather suddenly of brain cancer. She has always felt that her married and pregnant older sister was mums favorite, and also that her boyfriend doesn't really pay attention to her. The death of her mother sends her off on a self-destructive foray in hedonism. She leaves her boyfriend, gets her own apartment, quits her job, and starts sleeping around. This is clearly not working well for her, and reaches critical mass when she discovers that her sister took a ring belonging to her mother that she had wanted, is mugged, her date blindfolds her then pisses on her face, and she finds that her best friend is now sleeping with her old boyfriend. Her sister is on a business trip, and she goes to her house and tries, unsuccessfully, to seduce her brother-in-law.

The film is highly thought of. IMDB has it at 7.0 of 10, the film won 8 festival awards, and was nominated for 4 others, and had great critical acceptance, mostly due to Morton's performance, which I admit was riveting. I had a huge problem with this film, however. It was cinema verite, which, to me, means the film technically is absolute crap, and the grainy photography, bad lighting, stark camera angles, and nearly constant use of a shaky-cam spoiled what, for me, might have been a good film.

The Critics Vote

  • Berardinelli 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • made for a budget of one million dollars
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. A serious-minded movie with arthouse appeal. Good acting, somewhat affecting, but zero entertainment value. (Tuna: C+. It is a critical hit, has good exposure, and a great performance from Morton.)

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