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REPLACE Combines the Themes of THE NEON DEMON with the Horror of MARTYRS (LAFF Review)

REPLACE Combines the Themes of THE NEON DEMON with the Horror of MARTYRS (LAFF Review)

Following a downtown date night, Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) finds herself inadvertently walking back in circles, returning to the site of the sex scene, and discovering the apartment to have completely changed. Now, the apartment of the man she had only dated five times is no longer hers but his, filled with her stuff like she’s lived there for years. Also? The ghost of a little girl appears at terrifying moments (largely abetted by some skillful sound design). Even worse, the skin on Kira’s hand is not just flaking off, but doing so in chunks that threaten to expose the bloody flesh underneath.

That’s a lot to unpack, but in Replace, director Norbert Keil is content to let us orient ourselves for a while without explaining anything. The plot details sort things out later; in the meantime, the bisexual Kira develops a friendship (and more) with sexy French neighbor Lucie (Sophie Demeraux), who claims never to have seen the previous male inhabitant and is revealed to have been watching Kira from afar for a while.

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As the skin condition worsens, Kira visits a clinic she has been to before but cannot remember, possibly because it looks a lot more like a modern art gallery than anything legitimately medical. There, creepy doctor Barbara Crampton subjects her to inconclusive tests, all as Kira begins to notice that, since the chunks of her skin that she peels off show an uncanny ability to stick right back on and become part of her again, her body might be able to do better with fresher pieces of epidermis instead.  First she tries to skin a cadaver, but before long she’s taken the leap to becoming a serial skinner… and it works, albeit only briefly. Stolen skin rejuvenates her own, but cannot stop the overall deterioration, which keeps coming back, faster and faster.

The metaphor, made obvious by the end, is a fear of aging, and in particular how age changes women’s societally pressured self-image. To what lengths will you go to fight the ravages of time, knowing you cannot win forever? In its proposed “solution,” it starts to play a bit like The Neon Demon, until the film’s final third takes a detour into some Martyrs-like territory. In its desire to give every young actress onscreen a nude scene, it also ironically undercuts its own statement, as it probably won’t surprise you that the older Crampton is the only woman in the story who doesn’t strip or get stripped at some point. The director could no doubt claim he’s using objectification to draw people in and receive the message they need to hear, but will they notice through all the gore? Maybe. It’s worth noting that there are no male savior or archvillain roles.

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The screenplay, cowritten by the awesome and underrated Richard Stanley (Hardware, The Island of Dr. Moreau and YES THAT’S A GOOD MOVIE DAMMIT) thankfully offers more than just a simplistic serial killer take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend (that’s been done before, and badly), using Kira’s memory gaps/time jumps (it’s not clear until the end what they actually are) to keep viewers on edge and as unable to grasp quite what is happening as Kira is. The soundtrack runs the gamut from modern club beats to subtle score cues to synth-heavy John Carpenter tributes, while the frequent use of blurry filters and literal purple hazes add dreamlike notes where appropriate. That many of the effects at least appear to be in-camera (bravo if they’re digital replicas) gives the whole project a nice throwback feel.

Even the rotting skin makeup looks as simple as something like dried oatmeal, but it works because the consequences of it are completely sold by both Forsythe and the judicious use of special gore makeup underneath when needed. It’s like the inner ugliness is fighting to emerge, and winning.

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I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more from Norbert Keil in the future. Replace may not be destined to be a massive crossover, but I suspect it’ll be one shared often by horror fans as a “Have you seen this?” cult favorite.

Four out of five burritos

4-burritos

Images: Sparkling Pictures/Indie PR

Luke Y. Thompson is a member of the L.A. Film Critics Association who loves the LAFF time of year. Tweet him @LYTrules.

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