Replace was a little independent sci-fi body horror that we discovered at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. It’s a quirky, mysterious and unusual story of a young woman, Kira (Rebecca Forsythe), whose skins starts to fall off. Desperate to maintain her beauty and life, she takes matters into her own hands after discovering that she can stave off the disease by ‘replacing’ her skin with that of others.
The film is the brain child of director Norbert Keil and, in addition for having one heck of a story to tell, also looks absolutely gorgeous. He also managed to get everyone’s favourite eighties scream queen Barbara Crampton on-board as Kira’s doctor, Dr. Crober. The pair were in attendance at this year’s Frightfest and we seized the opportunity to discuss the project.
THN: How did the project come together?
Norbert Keil: So the idea came from a personal experience that I had. I had to get an operation and I was faced with not being in control of my body anymore, so I felt that such powerful emotion, that helplessness. I was looking for a way to put that in a movie. The obvious way to visualise that was to do it through a skin disease that the hero has to battle. I’ve always been a fan of body horror, I’ve always admired David Cronenberg, so again it was an obvious choice for me to go in the body horror route. So I wrote the script and at some point very early on Colin Geddes, who used to be a programmer for Midnight Madness in Toronto, he joined the project with my producer. We then at some point sat down and figured who do we cast as Doctor Crober, who was originally written as a man, but everyone agreed that it would be amazing to have a woman starring in the film. Colin suggested Barbara.
Barbara Crampton: I will forever – I mean I love him anyway – but I will forever love him for doing that. That meant a lot to me.
NK: He put us in contact…no, was is Karim?
BC: Yeah. Originally Karim Hussain was going to be our DP. He was the same DP who did We Are Still Here. So I’m quite good friends with him, so he put Norbert and I in touch and then we met. I live in San Francisco, he lives in Munich, and we were both in LA very soon after that. We decided to meet up and we got along amazingly well, and right there he offered me the part. I said I’d be honoured to, and we went from there. I’d read the script first because Corine had sent it to me. He unfortunately couldn’t do the project, but we got Tim Kuhn, and then you see that the movie is visually striking. He did quite a good job. It was about a year and a half after I met Norbert that we were actually able to film the movie, scheduling, money issues and things like that. Everything has to come together. It just seems so daunting to make every single movie. But I was really quite happy that they wanted to look at this idea of ageism and beauty, and what that means from three different women’s point of views. Instead of it being a man. It could have been that, Lucie Aron’s character could have been a boyfriend, but as it turned out it was a girl and she had her own feelings about what’s going on. I have my own reasons and feelings about that, and obviously the main character that Rebecca Forsythe plays has her feelings. So we look at this idea from three different points of view and I thought that was really smart to do that with three women.
That’s what stood out to me, that it was so female dominated, there are only a couple of male characters. It is strong and female-centric, something very needed these days. What also stood out to me was the cinematography; the visual style to me added a dark fairy-tale vibe to the film. How important was it getting that aesthetic?
NK: We always set out to make it really dreamy, very ethereal, almost based on her character. So the visual style in the last third of the movie actually slightly changes. I won’t go into why, but it kind of changes as we kind of enter another world. We leave Kira’s world. Kira’s world is very much seen through her eyes, and due to her mental state during the beginning of the film, and throughout the second act she’s still trying to grasp things and trying to adjust to everything. Not only her illness of course, not only the disease, not only the lengths she has to go to to fix the disease or to battle the disease, but also the state of her mind, and we wanted to visualise that. We wanted to put the audience into her head so that’s why we used a lot of filters, a lot of back-light and everything’s not really tangible, and the camera is always floating around, so that was very intentional.
There is also a great mystery element to the film, the first fifteen minutes I was just sat there thinking I have no idea what is happening. It of course all starts to fall into place, how hard was it to get the script together so that the mystery element worked?
NK: On paper it always works splendidly. (Barbara laughs) We actually worked a lot on it in editing. To make it work we shifted some stuff around. Again the intention was for the first ten minutes the audience should experience what you experienced. You should be sitting there going – ‘what is happening?!’ Because you’re inside her head, and she has no clue what is happening.
BC: She’s disorientated, and you are disorientated as an audience member.
NK: You should be. But there’s a level. At some point you will of course lose your audience. If you push it too far they will just go – ‘okay I don’t care anymore’. We tried to find the right balance, I’m sure it will be too much for some people, but most people are getting it and we tested it. It’s really important that you experience it through her eyes, and then just as you’re about to give up, it starts making sense. It was tricky and a lot of work. It was lot of painful editing, editing stuff out that was shot and was beautiful, but you have to make those sacrifices.
It caught me completely by surprise.
BC: It’s funny as an actor working on the movie. I didn’t have a sense of this visual storytelling that they had in their minds when he and DP were making the film. When you read a script you visualise it in your head, and I didn’t visualise it like that at all. The first time I saw it, which was one of the first edits before it was the final locked version, it really blew me away. I was really quite surprised and shocked. I didn’t know because I’m not a person that looks at a monitor very often when I’m shooting, I don’t pay attention to that, I just do my thing, so it made just so much sense to me when you finally put the movie together. Then I did see the final version and it is from her mind. It’s disorienting, but it’s also quite beautifully shot. That’s her, she wants things to be beautiful and also she’s just not quite there in her mind. It just made perfect sense. It’s like telling story from her eyes and I just love that, (to Norbert) you did that.
So what was it about your character that made you want to play her?
BC: There’s a duality with the character without giving away what’s really going on for me. This is an aspect of life that we all deal with, getting older. For me, or for my character, it’s not so much about the beauty, it’s just about the long game of ageing and what that means. Sustaining life for a long period of time for human kind and what that could mean. My goals in the movie are pretty lofty, we’re dealing with three different women’s point of views and we get to look at it from those point of views. That really interested me and how it all comes together at the end. How dramatic and sad it becomes, but my character’s playing God a little bit and what’s the price you pay for that?
Replace arrives on Digital Download and DVD from Monday 16th October 2017.