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Under The Skin

R13: horror, violence and nudity

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

Under The Skin poster

Date registered: 06/06/2014

About the film

Under The Skin is a British feature film around 108 minutes long. It was submitted for classification as part of the 2014 New Zealand International Film Festival, and stars Scarlett Johansson.

The film is slow-paced, shot in realist-documentary style. Set in Scotland, it follows a woman (revealed to be an alien) who, with the assistance of a motorcyclist (also alien), lures men to a den where the men's bodies are harvested. The majority of the film follows her as she prowls the streets looking for victims.

A still image from the film - driving the streets, looking for victims

Classification criteria: Sex

The film contains some sexual material. However the treatment of sex is of low impact; much of the material is very ambiguous and requires a sophisticated knowledge of sexual activity to appreciate.

A still image from the film - luring a naked man into the black abyss

Classification criteria: Horror

The film incorporates horrific elements for effect. Sound and light are used in unusual and disturbing ways to signal evocative scenes, such as when victims willingly enter the den to their deaths. There is some imagery which is startling and provocative and reasonably horrific.

A still image from the film - the woman abandons her human skin

Classification criteria: Violence

There are some instances of violence in the film. The alien knocks out a victim on the beach with a large rock in order to get him back to her van. He appears unconscious but otherwise uninjured. In another instance, a victim manages to escape the den; the motorcyclist follows him and is next shown stuffing his body in the trunk of a car. The implication of violence is plain but the act of violence is not directly shown and occurs in wide shot obscuring any depiction of injury.

There is one scene of sexual violence in the film. The violence and assault has an authentic quality and is of moderate impact.

A still image from the film - violence on the beach

Classification criteria: Highly offensive language

There is occasional use of highly offensive language in the publication. It is not used in aggressive or intimidating ways. The sheer brevity of use means it is unlikely to impact on younger persons.

A still image from the film - the woman looks up

Decision summary

Under The Skin is an unusual and compelling independent sci-fi that incorporates horror and classic themes of body horror and alien observation. The publication is likely to cause harm to children. It therefore must be restricted from them, an exercise which goes against the presumption of the right to freedom of expression. However this limitation is allowed for being reasonable and demonstrably justified in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Children may find the horrific elements disturbing which will have a negative impact on their mental well-being. The violence, particularly the sexual violence, is also reasonably disturbing and may be harmful in the same way. Teenagers are not likely to be harmed by comparison. They will be able to contextualise the depictions due to their brevity, diluted as they are within the broader atypical sci-fi depictions. Lacking higher impact material, a higher restriction on this publication would be unreasonable.

The publication is classified objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 13 years.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R13 label
R13: horror, violence and nudity