Replace, from writer-director Norbert Keil and co-writer Richard Stanley (Hardware), is a decent attempt at body horror/sci-fi cross-pollination, with a surprising reveal and a strange, almost ethereal style to it.
After a night out, Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) starts to suffer confusion and memory loss. At the same time she notices a patch of dry, eczema-like skin on her finger. In the hallway of her building she meets her neighbour, Sophia (Lucie Aron), and the two begin a relationship. After suffering a blackout, and with her hand getting worse, Kira visits Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton) for treatment. Crober prescribes medication, but as Kira soon discovers: her skin can improve if she replaces it with fresh tissue from a living person. In desperation, Kira’s need for transplant flesh pushes her to murder and Replace starts to go a bit Frankenstein, as new parts replace old. Except here, it’s more a case of pre-emptive graverobbing.
Humankind’s biological fragility and the deconstruction of the body have long fascinated filmmakers and writers alike, and it goes some way to highlighting the enduring popularity of the body horror sub-genre. Replace certainly feels the influence of one particular genre great – Dr. Crober’s surgery décor and blood red medical scrubs are reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s disturbingly icky psychological horror, Dead Ringers. It also shares stylistic DNA with Brandon Cronenberg’s (son of David) sparse, minimalist body-horror from 2012, Antiviral.
While Replace takes an admirable step toward combining genres with a good batch of ideas, the strong visuals come at the expense of charactersation, which remains as light as the neon-bathed set design. It also struggles with a perplexing beginning. In setting itself up for later plot reveals, the early stages are confusing. There is a nice illustration of Kira’s amnesia early on, but it takes the film so long to re-address it, you begin to wonder if it will ever provide answers.
Forsythe does well with limited options, but as a character, Kira never really connects. Bewildered by her memory loss, she sort of floats around the movie, her motivations at arm’s length. It’s a rather drastic step from medical anxiety to random murder, and Replace struggles to present us with a convincing reason for Kira’s newly homicidal tendencies.
On the plus side, Replace stylistically riffs on the likes of The Neon Demon and Beyond the Black Rainbow, creating a strong visual template for itself – washed out colours contrast with hyper-bright sunlight-style lighting that beam into interiors like fluorescents. The effects are well done, also. The scabby, leprotic skin disease that plagues Kira is effectively gross and bloody. It’s also a little reminiscent of Greyscale from Game of Thrones.
Replace also benefits from casting horror legend Barbara Crampton as Dr Crober. Crampton, of course, is no stranger to body horror having starred in Stuart Gordon classics Re-animator and From Beyond. Dr. Crober’s cold, detached bedside manner is certainly a highlight.
Ultimately, Replace is a decent addition to the body horror/sci-fi catalogue. If you can navigate the early maze of a plot, and its deliberate vagaries, there’s a solid enough idea hidden away to warrant a look.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10
‘Replace’ will be screening at Sydney’s A Night of Horror International Film Festival 2017.