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by Jay Seaver

"Two takes on one idea trying to come together."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Replace" has a creepy, au courant premise for a horror movie about a woman afraid of losing her looks to the aging process - in fact it's got two, and that may be its biggest issue - though the two attack the same idea, they do so from decidedly opposite directions, and combining the two, as necessary as it seems for the plot, often has the movie feeling like it's at cross-purposes, and not in a way that creates interesting moral ambiguity.

That young woman is Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe) - she's hot and knows it, letting tonight's boy Jonas (Sean Knopp) know he's lucky to get her into his crappy apartment. It's a funny thing, though - she barely seems to have left when she finds herself coming back, like it's her apartment and she's been there a while with no sign of Jonas. That's the way her next-door neighbor Sophia Demeraux (Lucie Aron) seems to see things, and that's not the only strange thing going on - the skin on her hand is decaying, and the spot seems to be spreading quickly. The researcher she's referred to, Dr. Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton), prescribes Kira some drugs, but Kira discovers something else - her skin will quickly integrate with that of someone else, although the tissue needs to be fresh. So, just how badly does Kira want to stay young and pretty?

Director Norbert Keil and co-writer Richard Stanley seem to have come up with two answers to that question - one where she goes out with a knife and gets replacement parts and another where she unwittingly trades something precious for it in a way that explains her missing time, and while that may seem like too much for one movie, the links Keil and Stanley build between the accelerated decay that leads to the violence and the missing time are tantalizing, especially since Kira needs to be doing something while she and the audience figure out what is going on in the part of the story where she's relatively passive. They just seem to have a problem stretching things quite far enough - they're almost there on the desperation that leads to Kira taking other women's skin but never quite manage for there to be consequences - murder-for-beauty may be graphically presented, but remains a sort of moral abstraction when they need to have Kira as a protagonist and victim of someone else's horrific machinations later.

Rebecca Forsythe generally seems more comfortable doing the latter, in part because that's when her material makes a bit more sense - though most people will accept the reality that they are presented in most situations, there's something more immediately easy to believe about how Kira picks at the corners of her life later on; Forsythe has a way of communicating that her character is perhaps more curious out of obligation, that her youthful self-centeredness needs cracking to get to the better woman inside. She's able to sneak an impressively sympathetic performance out as the film goes on, convincing enough when communicating horror, fear, and regret that the fact that she was a bit flat earlier on is a bit of a positive: She wasn't so convincingly monstrous that a viewer can't get past it.

She gets to play off a more interesting group of characters more as the film goes on as well; where the slasher material is, inevitably, going to wind up pairing her with pretty young things that make a quick exit (although it's fun to note tattoos whenever a new one appears on-screen), it also highlights the different feel of the scenes with Lucie Aron. Her Sophia is introduced in much the same way, but there's a playfulness to her even beyond how the script has her asking questions and seeming engaged. It's a different type of treat when Barbara Crampton shows up as Dr. Crober; as effectively ruthless as she is without context, it's fun to see her her graduating to playing the mad scientist rather than that character's victims.

As wobbly as Keil's film can get, he's got some chops as a filmmaker; there's an impressive smoothness to how he can raise something unusual just enough to keep it in the back of one's mind while people go about their business as if things weren't strange. The more gruesome first half has a good enough balance push-and-pull between what's gruesome and what's intriguing to make it a bit easier than it should be to slide into the second, where a muted but unmistakable sci-fi aesthetic starts to creep in as the how and why of things becomes more of a concern.

Indeed, the filmmakers do a better job than seems likely tying their two approaches to the same idea together. It's funny to talk about wishing a movie did a little less with its premise, but that's where this lands. It's got a fun place to start and winds up in an interesting place, but trying to go for a more conventional horror story hurts it a bit.

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originally posted: 08/17/17 23:58:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/21/17 Louis Blyskal Great Film 4 stars
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Directed by
  Norbert Keil

Written by
  Norbert Keil
  Richard Stanley

  Rebecca Forsythe
  Lucie Aron
  Barbara Crampton
  Sean Knopp
  Adnan Maral

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