The idea of double has been portrayed in the cinema many times. From Vertigo to The Double Life of Verónique, there’s something about the doppelganger concept that attracts writers and film directors, from obvious surrealism (The Double) to comedy (The Great Dictator). Imitation Girl, the feature debut of Natasha Kermani, starts (and ends) with this theme in an exploration of what does it mean to be someone other than yourself, using sci-fi and feminist themes to reach its goals.
In the New Mexico desert, a boy prepares to masturbate to the photos of porn actress Julianna Fox (Lauren Ashley Carter). But something falls from the skies and scares him away, leaving what can be described as a black blob to take over the porn magazine and assume the physical resemblance of the adult performer. Meanwhile, in New York City, the real Julianna is playing the virginal cheerleader, having relationship troubles with her barman boyfriend, and keeping afloat with the help of cocaine. As her Double is found and given a place to stay by an Iranian man, Saghi (Neimah Djourabchi), and his sister, as well as taught the simple things of being a human, like talking and using the toilet, Julianna starts to wonder if there is more to life than appears to, as her old piano teacher invites her for a life-changing audition to access the music conservatoire.
This delicate sci-fi is not about special effects, and has a philosophical take that reminds us of Wim Wenders. The film uses wide shots that absorb the deserted places (both New Mexico and New York seem absent from crowds), with nothing too fancy camerawork wise, leaving the spotlight to concentrate in the magnificent performance by Carter, who gives us two brilliant faces of the same woman, both trying to make sense and work with the world around them. As the alien/angel and the porn star lead their existences, it is hard to trace easy parallels – and for those looking for them, the ending will be bitterly disappointing. Still, Imitation Girl does guide us through a meditative, at points sensorial narrative, where Kermani’s command of rhythm – as well as her incipient authorial voice – are obvious and welcome. And though the script can at points lack tightness, it is still a thoroughly enjoyable independent film, giving an original spin to an overused genre and theme.
Though not as mind-blowing as Under the Skin (similarities will be easy to spot by the audience), Imitation Girl is a decent and stunning effort of philosophical sci-fi which will also please fans of Another Earth and The Man who Fell to Earth. Not to be missed by genre fans.
Imitation Girl is available in VOD from 16th March 2018.