Based off a script he co wrote with Hardware’s Richard Stanley, Norbert Keil’s REPLACE, is a meditative and often nasty work of exquisite blend of science fiction and body horror. Wih influences ranging from Cronenberg to Barker are on display throughout the film and it’s held together by a trio of strong performances.
The film begins with a bit of misdirection, as the lovely Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) exits her lover’s empty apartment in the morning only to wind up in the same place with the discovery that it’s actually her own home. The audience is clued in that something is amiss when it’s revealed that Kira can’t seem to remember anything except the past few days.
Of greater concern is the small patch of dry skin that appears on her pinky. The dead, white flakes of skin are more than a cosmetic blemish as the layer of skin underneath reveals painful and bloody raw nerves. As Kira picks and pulls at the wound, it begins to spread. After a day or so the flaky skin has travelled all the way up her arm to her neck and shoulders.
Through a happy accident, Kira learns that the skin from others can temporarily restore her to her previous, beautiful state. It’s not long before she begins to amass a body count, trapping other young women before cutting them to ribbons and placing strips of their pristine flesh on top of her dying, crusty skin. For a small film, the effects here are top notch. The flaky patches of skin are almost beautiful in their own warped way, as if a thin layer of snow has covered Forsythe’s skin.
Aside from the top notch visuals, what stands out in REPLACE are the two primary relationships in Kira’s life. First there’s Sophia, Kira’s next door neighbor, confidant and could-be lover. There’s a sweetness to the couple’s friendship that blossoms into something more as the story moves forward. Sophia’s willingness to accept Kira despite the latter’s disintegrating body, along with the simple acts of companionship she offers over a meal or a bottle of wine do wonders when it comes to comforting the scared, disoriented Kira.
The other central relationship concerns Kira and her doctor, played here by genre icon Barbara Crampton. The actress continues her career renaissance in role that allows her to play the mad scientist to a chilling effect. While Crampton’s doctor offers promises of reassurance, her icy and stand offish demeanor, her willingness to lie to her patient about the nature of the prescriptions she has her taking, and the detachment in her manner as she performs the experimental skin grafts on a frightened Kira hint at something far more nefarious. Crampton is a delight to watch on screen, as she relishes the opportunity to play a Dr. Frankenstein of sorts.
Keil also delivers a certain visual flair to REPLACE. Scenes alternate between pulsating neon reds and the cold steel monochrome of the doctor’s examining rooms. Kira’s own apartment alternates between warm zones of comfort and wide areas of negative space. The somewhat slow pace of the film allows the viewer to soak in the atmosphere of the film.
REPLACE also shifts its tone and focus throughout. What begins as a simple body horror story, a more stylish looking CONTRACTED for example, becomes something deeper. It concerns itself with the aging of the human body, and the ways we as a species do our worst to fight the inevitable. It tackles the subjects of body dysmorphia and the lengths one will go through to see their best self. It’s a film that could serve as a cautionary tale for a younger audience who believes they’ll stay beautiful forever.