18th Jul2017

Fantasia 2017: ‘Replace’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Rebecca Forsythe, Barbara Crampton, Lucie Aron, Sean Knopp, Adnan Maral, J. David Hinze | Written by Norbert Keil, Richard Stanley | Directed by Norbert Keil

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Following in the footsteps of the likes of David Cronenberg, German filmmaker Norbert Keil unleashes his own brand of body-horror on unsuspecting audiences with Replace – a Bathoryesque tale of a beautiful young woman, Kira, who is afflicted with a disease that rapidly ages her skin. After seeking the advice of a dermatologist she discovers she can replace her skin with that of other girls, so of course she abducts and kills a potential donor. But when the disease returns, she is forced to find more victims and soon becomes the target of a police investigation.

I knew it… Back when the marketing machine for Replace started to ramp up I initially compared the film to Brian Thomas Jones’ The Rejuvenator and – turns out – that’s exactly what this film plays out like. That is if Jones’ film was run through the body-horror vision of David Cronenberg and the 90s erotic thriller aesthetic!

Part sexy, part terrifying, Replace is a film that fetishises killing in a way that, years ago, would have riled up James Ferman’s BBFC to a point where I doubt we would have seen the film in its uncut entirety. Director Norbert Keil has no problems with making the deaths in Replace as sexy as possible – there’s a particular scene, in which Kira slides her hand seductively under the skin of one of her victims, in much the same way a lover would slide their hand under the dress of their partner… Wow! The blurring of sex and violence really is at an all time high here.

Like Cronenberg’s work, it turns out there’s is much more to this story that what’s on the surface. Replace offers a dark perspective on societies obsession with maintaining “appearances”; of defying ageing, now a multi-million business in creams, potions, tuck and lifts; and even class – after all, those who can look good will, at any cost. Even if, in this case, its at the cost of human life. It’s notable that Kira, in her pursuit of fresh flesh, targets those lower down the class chain, even from her.

Replace looks and sounds the part too. With a colour pallet that reflects the erotic nature of the film a la Neon Demon and even Suspiria, and a soundtrack that mixes electronica with sweeping violins to really bring the story to life. The mix of sound and colours really brings an otherworldly feel to the film – something which is heightened by the very clinical, sci-fi-esque vibe of Barbara Crampton’s hospital. Which, honestly, looks so unlike a traditional clinic that it actually belies the mystery this film is trying to hide. After one visit I guessed EXACTLY where Replace was headed. Although that knowledge didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the film. Instead I was intrigued to see how and where Keil would take Kira’s tale.

Rebecca Forsythe (daughter of William Forsythe) as our protagonist Kira, gives a bold uninhibited central performance that belies the actresses relative inexperience. The nuanced way in which she reveals the multiple layers of character – from innocence to madness, to self-realisation and back to madness – is both remarkable and masterful. Based on her performance here I have no doubt she will have just as long and illustrious career as her father. Meanwhile the iconic Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), is perfectly villainous form as Kira’s doctor – the kind of “mad scientist” character that a genre veterans no doubt relish playing. In fact between this and her role in his and 2015′s Sun Choke, it turns out Crampton is VERY adept at playing the bad guy… More please!

Ultimately Replace is a sexy, deadly and grotesque body-horror trip that combines the best of US and European filmmaking to create a film that heralds the dangers of our obsession with youth and the march of science.

**** 4/5

Replace screened at Fantasia 2017 on July 16th.

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