Replace [Fantasia International Film Festival Review]

It’s a cliche to say that a thriller gets under your skin, but that turn of phrase is wholly appropriate when discussing Replace. Norbert Keil’s film (co-written with Hardware‘s Richard Stanley) is about a beautiful young woman named Kira, played by Rebecca Forsythe. She has intermittent episodes of amnesia, as well as an unexplained disorder that causes her skin to rot. Kira visits Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton), a skin-care specialist who vows to get to the bottom of things.

Unfortunately, Kira’s problem gets worse, not better. It starts at her hands before spreading to her face, back, and chest. She accidentally discovers that placing skin from another body over her affected areas can help them heal. The manner in which she obtains healthy skin and the revelation about what has caused her ailment are truly the stuff of horror.

Replace is a story about the perils of vanity. Kira is so obsessed with her beauty that she starts to take unconscionable steps toward maintaining it. The rotting skin bothers her not because it’s indicative of a health issue, but because she dislikes the way it makes her look. This is a rare horror movie in which the protagonist is also, in many respects, her own villain. Her behavior in the face of this condition, and not the condition itself, is the thing that could ultimately bring about her doom.

Keil uses sleek, atmospheric visuals and some intentionally jumbled flashbacks (i.e. Kira’s vague memories) to create the eerie mood in which the story unfolds. The dreamlike vibe makes Replace just a tad confusing in spots, although if you stick with it, everything makes sense in the end.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that it doesn’t travel a predictable route. Scenes of the character peeling off her own skin, or the skin of others, definitely have a strong visceral effect, just as you would expect in horror fare. The second half, however, goes into some surprisingly emotional territory, as Kira’s love for her neighbor Sophia (Lucie Aron) grows, and as she uncovers some startling secrets about her life. Replace definitely provides chills, yet it’s the way the story explores the internal damage Kira suffers from that really makes it resonate.

Rebecca Forsythe is outstanding, as is Barbara Crampton, who continues a recent hot streak of innovative genre films that also includes Abner Pastoll’s Road Games, Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, and Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates. To say much about Dr. Crober here would be a spoiler, so let’s just say that Crampton brings the exact right touch to a character who is, for her own reasons, just as obsessed with beauty as Kira.

Replace is stylish and substantive, making you shudder on a regular basis while also offering an insightful statement about how being too consumed with one’s own appearance can be a big step on the road to hell.

For more information on the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening this year, please visit their official website.