Cryptically dull – Enemy and Under The Skin

Both of these films have been many times recommended to me by email as being worthy of deeper analysis so in the last couple of weeks I managed to watch both.

While I’m not the type of viewer who demands to be led by the hand in terms of how a plot is presented to me, I do expect to be at least moderately entertained by an unconventionally told narrative. Both Enemy and Under The Skin failed for me in this respect. The modern art house cliche of being sluggishly slow-paced for the sake of it is present in both films. Part of the problem is that particular shots start or end by lingering for a good five to ten seconds on something that doesn’t need to be watched for more than two seconds. There simply isn’t enough going on in the visual frame or the soundtrack to maintain interest. Another problem is that certain plot or character revealing events in the film, while being told unconventionally, are repeated four or five times when just once or twice would easily do the job.

In Enemy the lead character’s identity confusion is put across far too many times – I felt like the film had too little to show so was simply padding itself out to reach the standard minimum run time for a feature. At least a half dozen such scenes could have been edited out and replaced with something else, such as expanding the opening sequence, which generated interest and then was largely abandoned for the next hour of the film. A few more of those interesting spider metaphor clues might have been better too.

In Under The Skin the alien in a human disguise is devoid of empathy for human beings … and the point is made over and over and over and sometimes in the least subtle ways. She abandons a crying infant boy on a murky beach after his father has drowned trying to save an older sibling. The child will clearly die alone. This easily establishes the lead character’s lack of empathy in a way that barely needs any further reinforcement. A good half dozen other “she has no empathy” scenes could have been dropped. There were also too many scenes of men being led to their deaths in a mysterious black liquid. Just one would have done the trick more powerfully.

As readers will know from my film analysis articles and videos, I’m perfectly willing to take the time to sit down and study a cryptic film to try and figure out what isn’t being told outright, but I find it hard to be motivated to do this when I find myself bored by repetition in my very first viewing.

Both of these films are also based on novels, neither of which I’ve read. According to the Wikipedia write up, Under The Skin simply offers more information than the film does. If that’s true then the film is likely a 108 minute advertisement for the novel and would probably be inefficient to stand alone as a story that can really communicate its ideas. A shame because director Jonathon Glazer’s film Sexy Beast is my favourite British film of the last twenty years (not that it has been up against much worthy competition).

The novel of Enemy apparently lacks the film’s spider metaphors, so at least on that level I feel I can take the film on its own merits. Forrest Wickman of Slate magazine offers an interesting and plausible interpretation of Enemy. Normally, with a film like this, I would seek my own interpretation before reading someone else’s, but Enemy didn’t quite stimulate me enough to make me want to watch the film again.

Unfortunately, for me Enemy and Under The Skin are both standard examples of a type of misguided “alternative” film making that too many film makers are drawn to. Cryptically interesting communication that is then spoiled by unnecessary repetition and snail-paced editing. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll give these two films another visit, but for now I’m not inclined.

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