Next up in my Fantasia Int’l Film Festival 2017 coverage lineup is Replace from German-born director, Norbert Keil. (i know “German-born” doesn’t really convey any relevant info, but it beefs this intro up a bit)
Kira spends the night at her new boyfriend’s place and wakes up alone. She takes the less-than-subtle hint and leaves. When she gets home, she finds the place eerily unfamiliar. Or, rather, confusingly familiar. It’s her boyfriend’s place. He’s still gone and it quickly becomes evident that she’s the only one who lives there. Her mind / memory seems to be slipping. On top of that she has a nasty, crusty dry patch on her hand. She seeks help with her mental state (in the form of comfort from her neighbor) and physical state (visits to her doctor, Barbara Crampton) At the same time, she inadvertently finds that the spreading skin crust can be replaced with other people’s skin. This sends her on a dark path to recovery, desperate for rejuvenation.
Replace has a lot going for it. The fear of growing old is a time-tested relatable theme. We are all subject to the inexorable march of time. Every second brings each of us that much closer to death. Many rage against the dying of the light by staying fit, taking vitamins, using miracle anti-aging creams, etc. Some wish earnestly to discover a modern day fountain of youth. This is what Kira wants and makes clear from her first bit of voice over. She would bronze her youth to preserve it forever if she could. You know where this is heading – she will do whatever it takes to preserve her youth. Even if (especially if) that means killing young women and stealing the skin right off of their backs. This leads to some intense scenes of torturous flaying and the gut-wrenching deaths of anonymous innocents. The viewer sympathizes with Kira to some degree, but only because we see her humanity underneath the sociopathic narcissism inherent in her acts. Those glimpses into her softer side come from her interactions with her kind, flirty neighbor, Sofia. We want Kira to get well and we hope Sofia can be her emotional anchor. It’s a pretty thrilling and intriguing ride for the first two-thirds of the film. After that though… well, the film takes a rather trite turn. The story slips into cliched shadow corporation vs little guy territory, complete with revelations and betrayals that cause more eye rolls than gasps of incredulity. Bad guys become sharply defined and one-dimensional even if their only stake in the matter is that they receive a paycheck from the shadowy corporation. It’s a shame to become so tiresome after such a strong start, but at least the final moments of the film deliver one final startling shock. So, it’s not a total loss.
The Final Cut: Replace is a mostly decent body horror film that starts off strong with gruesome mutilations and intriguing character development. Unfortunately, it ends on a weak note after degenerating into a cliched action thriller.