Replace review: A young woman with a peculiar skin condition must replace her flesh with that of others in order to survive in this quirky festival film.
Earlier this year the horror genre was gifted the fantastic Raw. The French film, directed by Julia Ducournau, gave the trials of the transition into womanhood a body-horror spin as young vegetarian Justine (Garance Marillier) found herself suddenly craving human flesh after a university hazing ritual. Now we get Replace, a film that adds a body-horror spin to the ageing process…
Young woman Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) wakes-up, the morning after a hook-up, with next to no memories. As she tries to piece together her life, with help from her neighbour Sophia, she realises she has more to fear than memory loss as her skin rapidly starts to dry out. After meeting up with her Doctor, Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton), and getting nowhere, Kira sets out on her own to find a cure. She soon discovers that, whilst her skin is deteriorating at an alarming pace, it can be replaced with the skin of other people. Kira is then faced with an impossible choice – go on a murder spree to keep herself alive, or let others continue to live as she literally crumbles away.
Replace is one of those films that hooks you from the opening moment and takes you on a mind-altering journey. There’s a huge element of mystery within the narrative which commands the viewer’s attention and draws you in slowly. There’s also a quirky, surreal, fairy-tale vibe to the whole thing, it’s enchanting and enticing. The run time will fly by in the blink of an eye. Director Norbert Keil has crafted a truly beautiful movie. His use of different colour filters adds atmosphere and enhances to the almost fairy-tale quality of the movie; everything feels rather otherworldly. Rather than a horror aesthetic of grimly lit rooms and dank dismal locations that one might expect about a woman losing her skin, Replace has a much stronger science-fiction look. There are bright whites and everything is clean, making the bloodshed all the more impactful.
The make-up effects are truly phenomenal, at several junctures we are granted a no-holds-barred visual of Kira removing sections of skin. This is all done on camera and is more wince-inducing than that bit in Terminator 2: Judgement Day where Arnie peels his arm off. The realness of the make-up work makes for troubling viewing, the squeamish will want to avert their eyes.
The themes explore the importance society places on being young and beautiful. When we meet Kira at the beginning she is sharing her desire to never grow old with a potential suitor. The thought of ageing is disgusting to Kira and to many of society. Everyone is always experimenting with all manner of pills and potions in a bid to hold onto their youth. Imagine then if you are like Kira and your beautiful skin turned against you. What would you do? Watching Kira struggle with this impossible choice highlights the darkness that lies within each of us, and accentuates mankind’s ability for self-preservation.
At the core of Replace though, is a love story. Kira and Sophia slowly fall for each other as they try and solve Kira’s condition. It’s handled masterfully and has a hint of Orphan Black‘s Cosima and Delphine to it. It’s not just the lead falling for another woman that makes Replace stand out from the crowd, there are barely any male characters. Refreshingly for cinema this is film filled with females. During the entire run-time there are only three male characters that I can recall that have any lines, and none of them are central to the story; they are simply supporting players. This allows our trio of females (Forsythe, Aron and Crampton) to shine to the best of their potential and smashes the Bechdel Test, passing with flying colours.
Forsythe is mesmerising as our heroine, as Kira she goes on quite the journey and handles herself superbly. Her performance is an intoxicating mix of innocence, power and darkness, she’s sure to go far off of the back of this film. Aron is equally brilliant as Sophia, and Crampton is simply fantastic as Kira’s doctor. Usually she plays a victim, here she is a very strong and driven woman.
A startling, blood-soaked and mind-altering fairy-tale, Replace can’t quite replace Raw, but it’s a very close second.
Replace review by Kat Hughes, July 2017
Replace is currently playing at the Fantasia International Film Festival.