When Under the Skin hit cinemas earlier this year it promptly divided both audiences and critics. To some it was an innovative and masterful piece of themed storytelling with a dazzling and daring filming aesthetic, but to others it was a pretentious mess and a self-indulgent misstep for lead actress Scarlett Johansson. While the narrative undeniably can be debated and interpreted over and over again, the reason we're here talking about Under the Skin at all is because of how integral the images and aesthetic are in presenting the film's key philosophies.

Shot in part using hidden cameras and non-actors, Under the Skin feels too real; it pushes the documentary style so much that the reality presented on-screen is almost too relatable, hits too close to home that the whole thing feels incredibly uncomfortable to watch. This naturalistic aesthetic is contrasted with a more stylistic, more cinematic filming style that perfectly juxtaposes against the realism of the aforementioned scenes. The shooting style is evocative, and the narrative content is innately sexual, but the film presents such a crushing sense of dread, of alienation, of an erratic anxiety that it manages to make a film that boasts a naked Scarlett Johansson the least sexiest thing you'll ever experience.

Jonathan Glazer's bleak, cynical depiction of Scotland is suitably captured with a shaky and kinetic presentation, with jump-cuts and idiosyncratic shots pulsating fear and distress. Perfectly, whether intentionally or not, Glazer's frank representation of Scotland's underbelly is so familiar, but presented in such a jarring way that the landscape feels completely alien. Watching any of the many scenes of Johansson's character roaming Scotland for her next victim is cripplingly eerie - yet you can never quite put your finger on why. The music and images work so well in sync that every frame feels threatening and the film dangles you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Impressively, Glazer manages to make the more observational scenes of the every day feel the most alien and disconnected from reality. Somehow, hypocritically, the fantastical scenes feel more familiar because they're more generally cinematic and more conventionally shot. There's a safeness in knowing these scenes aren't real that the pseudo-documentary footage lacks. It's a strange mish-mash that I can't get my head around; Under the Skin doesn't necessarily use its images to create a picture, but a feeling. It's part of why the film demands to be seen. Even if you find it repugnant, Under the Skin has an uncanny ability to manipulate its visuals to make you feel, and, unfortunately for you, most of the time it makes you feel like you're having a panic attack.

While trying to figure out who's an actor and who isn't can be nauseatingly tense, Under the Skin brings the same sense of dread to its more poetic moments. An opening sequence is reminiscent of Sci-Fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and most certainly sets the scene for what's to come. It's not a particularly demanding scene; a few coloured shapes appear on-screen accompanied by the mumbles of a woman and the screeching piercing of the movie's score. Somehow it's not boring; the movie draws the audience into its world, luring us in with effortless mystique and allure. It's scary and it's isolating and it's foreboding yet you can't help wonder what it's all about - a technique Under the Skin exercises magnificently until the very end. In a sense it's the perfect opener, informing the viewer that they're in for a sensory film more about feelings and thematic similarities, more concerned with building atmosphere than it is with complex dialogue or plot.

When the film does dive into more fantastical elements, it dives in head-first with a more static and measured presentation allowing you to see all of the weird locales that are on-screen. One recurring location is nothing but a deep-black room that extends seemingly forever. The film never tells you what the room is or how it works, but you're still terrified of it every time it shows up. These scenes (and in particular this endless space) are delicately shot and are so poetic in their lighting and movement that it serves as a direct opposition to the horror happening in the narrative. These scenes, in fact the whole film, feels like one long dream (nightmare?) sequence; elements are familiar yet otherworldly, places that usually resonate safety now resonate distrust and anxiety. Someone once said that cinema is the closest thing we have to dreaming without being asleep, and this film takes that assertion literally and runs away with it.

Under the Skin's horrific dreamscapes make for some of the most sensational and anxiety-inducing scenes you'll see all year in film. While it won't be for everyone, and while at times it feels more like an accident than a directorial choice, the film's aesthetic asserts itself as important and alternative to mainstream storytelling. If you can get over the movie's arrogance and it's pretensions then Under the Skin can be a riveting and harrowing cinematic experience unlike any other. It's a hard film to praise as many of its aspects don't live up to the movie's lofty potential, but it undoubtedly captures a certain mystique and genuine originality that even if it is a failure, then it is an important one, and one that deserves to be seen. Under the Skin holds nothing back and absolutely assaults the audience with it's alien visuals and near-perfect musical score, successfully forming a beautifully nightmarish cinematic environment. It's not as important as it thinks it is, but it would be an absolute travesty if this film only went down in history for being "that one film where Scarlett Johansson gets naked". Under the Skin is a flawed gem, but one that manages to completely understand and showcase the importance of cinematic storytelling, even if it's not all directly intentional.