My notes on the unusual science fiction film.Remember that shapeshifting alien bounty hunter in Critters who adopted an Earth disguise by looking at a nudie magazine and turning into a centerfold complete with staple in her tummy? The way Under the Skin is a gloss on Devil Girl From Mars, writer-director Natasha Kermani’s Imitation Girl is like an extremely arty reboot of that throwaway character – it ought to be ridiculous, but it’s actually challenging, unusual and affecting, though you have to accept that it’s more about impressions and suggestion than plot and content. It has an odd clutch of mostly 1970s influences, including The Man Who Fell From Earth and (unusually) James Toback’s Fingers, but also forges its own distinctive identity.
An alien lifeform comes to Earth in the form of oily black goo – an image that’s been seen a lot since The X-Files – and happens upon a discarded mag which features porn star Julianna Fox (Lauren Ashley Carter) on the cover. The alien goo takes on Fox’s look, and outfit, and wanders weirdly through the desert, falling in with Iranian-American siblings Saghi (Neimah Djourabchi) and Khahar (Sanam Erfani), from whom she learns Farsi and the rudiments of acting like a human being. Meanwhile, in a parallel thread, the actual Julianna Fox (Carter again) is feeling scarcely less alienated from her life of mundane sex shoots, drug-dealing and lesbian pick-ups … but runs into an old music teacher (Catherine Mary Stewart, of Night of the Comet) who encourages her to audition for a conservatory place, though she hasn’t played the piano in a while and might well have drifted too far into her current headspace to get her skills back.
Carter has a very interesting fringe genre filmography – Jug Face, Bereavement, Pod, The Mind’s Eye and Darling – and here manages two unusual, nuanced performances, with the alien and the porn star on a course that will inevitably lead to a confrontation and perhaps a merger. The Julianna sections have a lot of wry comedy about the post-Boogie Nights drudgery of the porn business – she seems to be endlessly filming one cheerleader role – while the alien strand comes at the outsider/immigrant/refugee theme from an unusual angle. It’s not a conventional film in any of the genres it touches on, but it is an ambitious and often seductive experience.