Under the Skin

Director: Carine Adler
Screenwriters: Carine Adler

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


A work of rare poignancy and power, Under the Skin unflinchingly dramatizes a young woman’s anguish in the wake of her mother’s untimely death. Neither moralistic nor reductive, Carine Adler punctuates her subject’s heartbreaking confusion with anguished complexity.

When her mother unexpectedly succumbs to cancer, Iris finds herself angry, alienated, and convinced that her conservative sister was more loved than she. With her bearings shattered and her heart duly hardened, Iris (in a breathtaking performance by newcomer Samantha Morton) strays from home, rejecting all that is familiar and nurturing. Aroused by a sexual encounter with a stranger and consumed by newfound promiscuity, Iris abandons her boyfriend and job and moves into a squalid bedsit.

Obsessed with images of her ailing mother, Iris dons her wig, coat, and glasses and floats through the streets of Liverpool on the wings of a deathly disengagement. It is as if only in an orgasmic delirium can she excise the intensity of her despair. As her erotic encounters become increasingly fraught with humiliation and danger, we watch the painful inevitability of her self-destructive descent like incapacitated angels. However, only in plummeting to these perilous depths can Iris resolve her relationship with her mother and emerge with renewed self-possession. Supported by the gritty, hand-held photography of Barry Ackroyd (a longtime collaborator of Ken Loach) and Ewa Lind’s vigorous editing, Carine Adler has created an assured and heartbreaking first feature of astonishing potency.

Carine Adler, Director
Carine Adler, a graduate of the National Film and Television School, has made a series of short films, including Jamie, Touch and Go, and a documentary for Channel Four called Edward’s Flying Boat. She wrote and directed Fever, starring Katrin Cartildge, for the British Film Institute’s New Director’s Scheme and has written feature scripts for the BBC, British Screen, and the British Film Institute.

— Rebecca Yeldham

Screening Details


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