Women have always been under extra scrutiny when it comes to their looks and maintaining one’s youth has become an Olympic level sport for some. With HD television, gossip magazines that delight in hi-lighting normal, human “flaws” and the innate pressure that we intrinsically put on ourselves, how are any of us supposed to maintain and compete? Well, Kira is about to find out.
Rebecca Forsythe delivers an outstanding performance as Kira Mabon, a musician who lives in one of those impossibly cool lofts that only people in movies can afford. As tends to be the case in this brave new world of social media, her life only looks beautiful: Kira doesn’t remember a lot of things. She doesn’t remember befriending Lucie, her wonderfully friendly and sexy neighbor, she doesn’t realize that she’s in her own apartment and not that of her boyfriend Jonas and she doesn’t remember if she has previously seen the doctor that she thinks she has an appointment with.
Delving too deeply into the story would take away from the viewing experience, but I will tell you that Replace is a feast for the eyes that makes you feel just as dreamy and confused as Kira does. With Suspiria-like lighting and colors, an 80’s synth pop score and Kira expertly rocking a modern Audrey Hepburn aesthetic, the time period is indeterminate in one of those perfectly retro/modern ways. With an unreliable protagonist comes ancillary characters that feel equally dubious. Lucie (Sophia Demeraux) is simply too sweet and suspiciously, always available to be super sympathetic to Kira’s alarmingly strange skin condition. And Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton) is far too accommodating to Kira’s forgetfulness, a little too quick to explain strange symptoms away and she’s definitely more chic than any doctor has a right to be.
Back up. What about the skin condition, you ask? Kira’s skin is decaying and peeling off. What starts as a small patch on her pinky finger, quickly begins to creep up the length of her arm. While enjoying wine with Lucie, one of the glasses break and a small piece of Lucie’s skin is sliced off. In a strange and desperate moment, Kira is compelled to place that piece of skin on her decaying flesh and, miraculously, her body greedily accepts it.
So, what’s a decaying girl to do when she discovers that placing fresh, young skin on her dying skin, will return her to the youthful beauty that she prefers to be? The strange, gruesome path that Kira finds herself on could have easily just been a gross and stupid excuse to disrobe our actress, but in the hands of writers Richard Stanley and Norbert Keil who also directed, Replace is a truly insightful, disturbing and sympathetic commentary on our societal obsession with the superficial. Told through the lens of three very different women, the film is able to examine the different things that propel each of us to make the choices we do. Forsythe, Demeraux and Crampton all turn in strong, impressive performances that help elevate an already strong story to something even more special. Kira could easily be an annoying girl who worries too much about her looks, but Forsythe brings a fragile ferocity to the character that is both scary and heartbreaking. Sophie is anything but the token cute and friendly neighbor who falls in love too quickly. She is a strong and brave woman in ways very different from Kira and it’s a delight to see these two fight for one another’s love. Finally, Dr. Crober should absolutely be a one note evil scientist type of character, but Crampton has proven yet again that she is only getting started in the career renaissance she has been experiencing. In fact, it’s impossible not to comment on the fact that Crampton has been getting the best roles of her career now that she is no longer the young ingenue or in the dreaded limbo of 30/40-something female. In an obvious nod to Dead Ringers, Dr. Crober is not a woman to be trifled with and Crampton is clearly delighting in the opportunity to play such a fun character.
Horror is always a mirror of our current societal woes. With some truly impressive makeup, impeccable styling, an emotionally on point score and complex female characters that are inhabited by fierce and fantastic actors, Replace is a truly horrifying and beautiful cinematic entry in body horror.
Reviewed as part of the Fantasia Film Festival
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont