Best Horror Movies of the Decade: Under the Skin builds from unease to despair
All this month, we are counting down the 31 best horror movies of the decade and doing a closer look at why each one earned a spot on our list!
30. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
There's a trend you'll see when you read retrospectives on the decade in horror, and maybe it'll show up in these articles, where people are either put off by or thrilled with "A24 Horror." A24 is easy to talk about when you wrap up the decade because the studio started in 2012 and, if you forget about that Roman Coppola thing they premiered with, came out the gate strong and never really let up. They marketed themselves so well and were so good at backing the right projects that they convinced your friends who wouldn't normally touch horror that certain directors could elevate the genre. And that's dumb and condescending and nobody needs to elevate any genre, but you watch the studio's big hits (The Witch, Hereditary, It Comes At Night, etc.) and you get why a person who doesn't care about Jason and Camp Crystal Lake would start tweeting about horror movies that aren't horror movies. That all started with Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin and, to a lesser extent, Enemy, released one month earlier.
There are plenty of horror movies that go for the transcendental space Under The Skin lives in (hello, Don't Look Back), but as the first big example of this type of movie from what would become an influential production house, Under The Skin is one of the most influential films of the decade.
So much of Jonathan Glazer's return to feature-lengths (he hadn't made a movie since 2004's incredible Birth) is tight with the fear that the person onscreen who isn't Scarlett Johansson is going to be eaten/drowned/evaporated by Scarlett Johansson. It's insane this thing is based on a novel, because so much of it is dependent on Johansson's facial expressions, Mica Levi's score and Glazer's hand around your throat. What little story we get is focused on Johansson's character's gradual fear of herself, and the between bits where, say, a baby is abandoned on a beach, are slow builds to despair.
So many of the other films on Cinema76's list are relentless. They bludgeon you and bludgeon you and then you leave the theater a little dazed, wondering what you just saw. Under The Skin makes you queasy and keeps you there, and maybe the shots of Scotland at golden hour provide some relief, but really it's bludgeoning you just as hard as anything else is, it's just doing it more covertly. It's a horror film, and there's no such thing as elevated horror, but there is such a thing as "extremely good examples of horror." That's what Under The Skin is.