2017’s Fantasia Film Festival runs July 13th through August 2nd.
Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) is a young, happy, beautiful woman by all outward appearances, but she’s concerned that none of it will last. A one night stand sees her awaken in an apartment she doesn’t recognize, and worse, there’s something wrong with her body. Patches of her once soft skin have gone dry to the point where it looks dead to the eye. She tries in vain to heal and cover it, but that vanity quickly leads to panic. A neighbor, Sophia (Lucie Aron), swears they’re friends — a relationship Kira has no recollection of — and suggests she visit a doctor. Kira reluctantly agrees after a fainting spell and other memory lapses increase her concern, and she’s surprised to discover the doctor (Barbara Crampton) says she’s treated her before.
It seems her skin is aging at an impossible rate, and while the doctor offers her medication Kira’s fear of looking old and ugly leads her to a disturbing realization. Do-it-yourself skin grafts work like magic and restore her youthful beauty, but they come with two new problems. They’re not permanent, and they require fresh skin from understandably unwilling subjects.
Director/co-writer Norbert Keil delivers an increasingly disturbing thriller with his English-language feature debut, Replace, and while strands from Cronenberg, Barker, and others are among its DNA the resulting film is its own monster. Horror and sci-fi intertwine with commentary on society’s obsession with youth and beauty with a satisfyingly unsettling effect.
Keil and co-writer Richard Stanley (Hardware) open their film with a confusing mindset mirroring Kira’s own. We move quickly through her evening, from meeting a guy to their later canoodling, and we’re given glimpses of Kira’s disdain for the old and ugly. It’s a fairy tale comeuppance of sorts that follows as she finds herself becoming what she despises, but the film is more than just a moral fable as it delivers both interesting ideas and some wonderfully chilling images.
Cinematographer Tim Peter Kuhn captures a world that rarely allows for human warmth. Kira’s instability and vicious acts lead to horrific scenes of suffering and carnage, and it only gets colder and more striking when she visits the doctor’s starkly-designed and neon-lit office office. Echoes of Dead Ringers come to mind as a place of supposed healing instead suggests a place where well-being may not quite be the priority. Crampton grounds the madness with an equally striking performance, and her offscreen reality as an actor who faced career struggles as she aged out of Hollywood’s (and the genre’s) sweet spot adds an additional weight to the film’s themes.
The lengths to which Kira goes are far and bloody, and Forsythe does strong work as a woman who’s both terrified and determined. Her “aging” skin and increasing memory loss are inevitable outcomes for all of us, but Forsythe convinces as an insecure woman unable to accept that fate without a brutal fight. She’s asked to go to some tough places physically and meets each challenge with the hunger of the young and voracious. You feel for her even as you fear her.
Replace is a bloody cautionary tale about both the human condition and the inevitable reach of science. See it before you’re too old to appreciate its warning.