Replace holds something fearful for everyone. You might hold a similar fear as the main character and hate the idea of aging? Or perhaps you fear the idea of becoming sick or deformed? Or maybe the idea of forced medical experiments creeps you out? No matter what unsettles you, this movie presents quite a few scares or at least some scenes to make you uneasy...
...Directed and written by Norbert Keil, Replace begins with a plead to not grow old. Our young heroine makes it clear she does not perceive age as a representation of experience or a life-fulfilled, but instead feelings of abandonment and uselessness. Very early on in the film our heroine, Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe) awakens to find her boyfriend Jonas (Sean Knopp) missing. And not just missing, but completely vanished. Even more mysterious, Kira also finds herself unable to leave his apartment. As the voices from the previous night echo in her head, Kira notices her “boyfriend’s apartment” actually belongs to her. The keys in her pocket unlock the front door, bills addressed to her litter the walls, and the answering machine refers to the apartment as “the home of Kira Mabon.”
Since returning to the apartment after her boyfriend disappeared, Kira finds the skin on her hand becoming dry and almost mummified. As Kira inspects her changing skin and her new surroundings, cinematographer Tim Peter Kuhn plays with light, color, and focus as Kira becomes more accustomed to her new living arrangement. At first the contrasting color of her red coat creates a brightness to her making her stand out against the dingy neighborhood and the muted interior of the apartment. When she removes the coat, she becomes part of the same color palette of her surroundings and seems to lose some of her autonomy as the focus diffuses the images and the outline of Kira blurs with the surroundings of her new apartment.
While the imagery lets us see how Kira’s reality and fantasy blur into each other, a chance encounter introduces Kira to her neighbor Sophia (Lucie Aron), who immediately becomes obsessed with Kira’s situation. And for good reason because this movie quickly goes from psychological mystery to sci-fi body horror. Kira seems oddly calm about the patch of withered skin spreading over her hand. She experiences missing time, unaware she made a doctor’s appointment with Dr. Rafaela Crober, played by Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond, We Are Still Here). And the real topper for Kira’s nonchalant attitude towards her predicament happens when she accidently discovers she can replace her aged skin with healthy fresh flesh.
One curious characteristic to notice about the new best friend is her strong interest in Kira’s skin condition. Sophia frequently guides the topic of conversation to Kira’s most recent doctor’s appointment and she also asks for constant updates on the spreading disease. As the relationship progresses between the two women, Sophie’s emotions seem greatly attached to the skin condition, almost like her attraction to Kira grows with the intensity of the disease.
Kira’s phobia for aging not only becomes clear from her willingness to harm other people, but also from her neglect of any other factors in her life. As she continues to experience missing time and lost memories, Kira (as well as her doctor) keep the condition of her skin as their top priority. The doctor Crober (perhaps a slight nod to the originator of body horror, director David CROnenBERg) explains the current condition of Kira’s hand comes from extreme and rabid ageing of the cells. The fear of aged skin outweighs any pain or complications which might arise from a complex surgery as Kira continually badgers doctors to perform a skin transplant. She seems either unphased or perhaps completely ignorant to the effects or expenses connected to such a procedure. However, Kira soon finds out only skin transplants from living (and unwilling) participants will rejuvenate the elderly skin quickly covering Kira’s body.
Some of the acting, (especially the lines which try to force in medical jargon) seems stiff.
So, do not blame Barbara Crampton for her unnatural approach to her character because her lines were just written that way. Forsyth, on the other hand, does wonderfully in her portrayal of Kira as she endures significant pain to remove her skin and appears to experience a high when attaching fresh skin. The actress does a great job playing a woman with a secret and a woman willing to kill.
The pacing slows down a bit as the film focuses less on the body horror and becomes more aimed at Kira finding herself through camaraderie with fellow patients of Dr. Crober or a connection to those from her past. Kira becomes increasingly haunted by her youth as she looks for answers. And just when you think a happily ever after will happen, Barbara Crampton reappears, and things start getting gross and sinister again.
As mentioned before, the appearance of a red coat actually becomes a running image throughout the movie as Kira wears two red coats during the span of the film and Dr. Crober and several other medical professionals don a red coat as well. When Dr. Crober wears the coat, I cannot help but feel Kiel is making yet another nod to David Cronenberg as the imagery seems similar to Dead Ringers. Once saying goodbye to the apartment and realizing the secret behind her aging skin, Kira once again dons a red jacket. So, maybe the red jacket represents some level of control as Kira and Crober never wear a red jacket at the same time as the power struggle between the two women escalates.
In the very beginning of the film, Kira comments how men have it easier than woman because only women truly experience the pain of aging. While the gender differences between aging earns a mention early on in the film, the director seems to drive home his point even further with his predominately female cast. With the removal of Jonas in the first few minutes, the director eliminates the male gaze and allows the female characters to serve as witness to Kira and Crober’s obsession with age.
The movie does not add anything new to the body horror genre or say anything about the beauty/anti-aging industry we have not heard before, but the overall project offers just enough gore and story to keep you interested. Fans of Cronenberg will appreciate the subtle nods to his works and the rest of the horror enthusiasts will enjoy an interesting story and an appearance from a beloved Scream Queen. I not only recommend watching the film, but I suggest an additional viewing as well because you appreciate some of the subtleness from the director and cinematographer the second time around.
Replace drops on VOD on October 1rst from Uncork'd Entertainment.
By Amylou Ahava