Review: Imitation Girl (2018)

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Lauren Ashley Carter plays a dual role in this unique science fiction film which evokes the spirit of films like Under The Skin and Annihilation

The great thing about genre film is that it can serve as a vehicle for allegory for any kind of story. From the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers being used as an exploration about the evils of conformity in the age of McCarthyism to something like 2007’s Teeth using body horror as a metaphor to explore puberty and adulthood. In that same vein, Imitation Girl serves as an elegy on life choices and the paths not taken in life and what could have been.

Lauren Ashley Carter (Darling, Jug Face) plays Julianna Fox, a down on her luck adult actress going through a period of ennui in her life. She sells drugs to pay the bills that doing porn doesn’t cover. At the same time, she is going nowhere in her life, stuck in a bad relationship and struggling to stay above water. At the same time across the country, a meteorite crashes down in the rural desert with a liquid exuding from the rock coating a discarded adult magazine with an image of Julianna on the cover. The liquid is a sentient force that creates and animates an exact replica of Julianna’s body based on the retouched image on the cover of the magazine. We see this Imitation, clad in stockings and lingerie stumble through the desert, learning to walk and eating garbage as it learns to be human until it is taken in by an Iranian immigrant named Saghi (Neimah Djourabchi). As Imitation learns about the world through the lens of the Iranian immigrant experience of Saghi and his sister Khahar (Sanam Erfani) , the real Julianna has a chance encounter with a conservatory instructor (Catherine Mary Stewart) who offers her an audition and a last chance out of the life she’s trapped in.

In many ways, director Natasha Kermani’s film is a much more optimistic take on Under The Skin, which also features an alien disguised as a young woman discovering herself after newly assuming a human form (clearly this resemblance isn’t lost on distributor Epic Pictures, as the film features an almost identical movie poster). However, the film takes an interesting turn in exploring Imitation’s new found identity by doing so through the eyes of immigrants, not unlike herself. All the dialogue and interaction Imitation has with Sagui and Khahar is in their native language Persian with subtitles. It’s too the credit of all the performers that this never feels like a gimmick; the performances and dialogue are nuanced; through Carter is clearly delivering her lines phonetically, she mainly listens as Saghi tells her about growing up Iran and as Khahar helps this stranger and humanizes a type of immigrant that many Americans find insidious based only on nationality. Carter does an excellent job of giving both Julianna and her doppelganger a unique character and personality; when they finally meet it never seems as if its one actress playing two roles, but two distinct personalities looking to be whole.

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Imitation Girl is a unique genre drama in the vein of Sliding Doors, showing what might have been and what could still be. If anything, the film’s climax is somewhat muted given its release schedule, as the ending is in many ways similar to that of Alex Garland’s Annihilation and explores similar themes. But this is a unique indie film that stays with the viewer after viewing.

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