If there is one sect of horror that makes me uneasy, it's anything that has to do with body horror. I like to think I can handle most things that come my way on screen, but anytime there is anything Cronenbergian related, I can feel my stomach begin to do flips. In Norbert Keil's latest film, REPLACE, which just had it's premiere at the LA Film Festival, body horror becomes front and center as a woman, Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) learns that her skin is beginning to rapidly age, dry up, and crumble away.
REPLACE is a film that took me awhile to really get a grasp on what was going on. We first meet Kira as she rendezvous with a man. When they go back to his place, she seems to know all the intricacies of his apartment without ever having been there before. The following morning, when she awakes, he is gone and she has very little recollection of the events leading up to that night. However, she suddenly notices that patches of her skin have begun to deteriorate, exposing the underlayer. She soon learns that a doctor (Barbara Crampton) has been helping her with her skin issues, but it becomes clear that Kira isn't satisfied with her level of care. At a loss, and losing skin quickly, she soon comes to realize that she can replace her skin with that of someone else's.
REPLACE is a film that had to grow over time for me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this stylish horror/thriller was incredibly unique. I loved that all the major players were female and that the few male actors took on a more background role. There was a strength and confidence that exuded from the roles of Kira (Rebecca Forsythe), Sophia (Lucie Aron) and Dr. Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton) that I wished I saw in more films. There was no damsel in distress needing to be saved, no overly stereotypical attributes, and quite honestly, that was a breath of fresh air. The film relies on these three actors to push along the story and I don't think it would have worked out as well had there not been obvious chemistry between all three.
As I mentioned above, there are definite moments that incorporated body horror. The peeling of the skin, whether it be Kira's or one of her victims, was grotesque yet artistically done so you were left feeling a mixture of disgust and awe. For those who absolutely love gore, I think you will be happy with the outcome. As for the kills themselves, they are nothing to over the top which I appreciated because it made the film a bit more realistic. I also found it interesting that Kira only went after women, never men, to see if their skin would adhere to her. I think I had an easier time handling the gore because of how stylized it was, and though most gorehounds will probably wish for more realism in their bloodshed, I enjoyed the artfulness of it.
Where I found myself getting confused was in the timeline. I was perplexed in the beginning of the film with how everything was going to tie together, but as the film got closer to the end it all started to come together. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that I enjoyed the overall theme of vanity and narcissism which was the driving point of what was happening with Kira. There were some moments in the film that felt a bit choppy, but overall, I was happy that the director took the time to have a fully thought out film that came full circle. I also found the romance between Kira and Sophia quite fascinating even though at times it felt a bit unrealistic and rushed. However, the dynamic between them seemed genuine and I was intrigued with Sophia's storyline, especially towards the end of the film.
All in all, REPLACE is a smart horror film that brings it's own characteristics to the genre. I loved that the film focused on a storyline brought to life by the three female leads, each of whom brought their own level of talent to the table. Though there were moments where I cringed while watching the film, it was only because of the gore and not through any fault of the filmmaker's vision. REPLACE has a lot to offer and I think horror fans will enjoy a fresh, new take within the horror genre.