Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: IMITATION GIRL

by Patrick Bromley
Lauren Ashley Carter x 2? I have to watch this one twice.

It's almost impossible to see Imitation Girl, the latest film from writer/director Natasha Kermani, and not think of the 2013 sci-fi masterpiece Under the Skin. Both films present a gorgeous Hollywood actor who appears on Earth and learns something about what it means to be human. Both films are given a deliberately ponderous pace, offering mystery and contemplation over easy answers or emotional payoffs. Both films feature strange black goo. Hell, even the marketing for the two movies isn't that far off. But just because comparisons can be drawn doesn't mean that the two movies are all that alike, which is to say that Kermani hasn't directed some imitative exercise. Imitation Girl is its own thing.
Indie horror superstar Lauren Ashley Carter stars in a dual role: first she's Julianna, an adult film star with a drug habit who's struggling to understand her place in the world. She's also as the titular Imitation Girl, an alien who comes to Earth as a liquid organism that makes first contact with a skin mag of which Julianna adorns the cover. Taking Julianna's form, the alien is eventually taken in by an Iranian shopkeeper (Neimah Djourabchi) and his sister (Sanam Erfani) and learns how to pass as human. Eventually, she makes her way to New York to meet face to face with Julianna. The results are interesting.

I'm already a mark for Carter, who continues to be interesting in good in every movie in which she appears (and it helps that she's consistently in the kinds of movies I like). Here, her work is the whole show: broken and lost as Julianna, wide-eyed (which is saying something for Carter, whose eyes are already enormous and expressive) and curious as Imitation Girl. I love, too, that Kermani makes the choice to have IG learn human life through the eyes of an Iranian immigrant and writes roughly half the movie's dialogue in Farsi, partly because it avoids the obvious choice of us experiencing the movie through the eyes of American-born white people and partly because of the unique insight that Djourabchi's character brings to experiencing life as an immigrant, just as Imitation Girl is. The way that Carter moves from being a blank slate to appreciating mankind in just half of her performance is beautiful; that she manages to create a completely different character who is falling apart in a way that is heartbreaking and true is a wonder.
While Imitation Girl doesn't provide obvious answers -- particularly during its striking and haunting final scenes, which will remain with me for a long time -- Kermani doesn't create something that's intentionally obtuse. Each half of Carter's story functions as its own independent drama with recognizable emotional beats and its own stakes, which, added together tell one story about doubting and appreciating one's humanity, flaws and all. There's a great scene in which Julianna expresses doubt and regret about her career, and a producer/director gives her a simple response that might seem like manipulation but which is actually totally honest and makes real sense. It's not what we tell ourselves when we're at our low points, as Julianna is, but the journey of Imitation Girl is in coming to terms with who we are and how lucky we are. Sometimes it takes and alien or a porn producer to make us realize it.
Imitation Girl was the first movie picked up by the new Dread Central Presents label, a subsidiary of Epic Pictures, the studio responsible for films like Nina Forever and Big Ass Spider and my beloved Turbo Kid. It's an interesting match because it's not really a horror movie, but I also really really like that they're putting their support behind something that's challenging and less easily definable, as well as behind a talent like Natasha Kermani. As much as I dig Imitation Girl -- and I really dig it -- it's a movie that makes me super excited to see whatever Kermani does next. There is such talent on display here, both in her visual sense and in her patient control of tone, that she has immediately become a voice to which I'm going to pay close attention. Plus, Kermani clearly knows what she's doing, as she understands that the only thing better than a movie with a Lauren Ashley Carter performance is a movie with two.

1 comment:

  1. I almost watched this during the weekend* but instead was packing my house most of the time (let me tell you how fun it is breaking down a music studio and boxing 2000+ records). It's been high on my anticipation list so I'm happy to hear you dug it!

    *we watched Demon House instead...stay far, far away from that film. A perfect example of how going in blind can be a bad move sometimes.

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