In terms of squirm, Replace easily gets a 10 out of 10. Watching this creepy tale of a woman who “cures” her extreme-dry-skin condition by replacing her flesh with the skin of others is deeply unnerving. You may find yourself hitting the pause button every time she murders a young woman and starts to harvest her next epidermal upgrade.
Like all good movies, though, there is a lot more to Replace than its ability to make your skin crawl. Director Norbert Keil, working from a script he co-wrote with Richard Stanley, gives a masterclass in creating atmosphere on-screen and building a sense of dread in viewers long before they witness the first flesh harvesting. All the time you watch Replace, your imagination is working in overdrive trying to figure out the reason behind the gruesome images you are being shown, at the same time dreading just how far the next one will go.
The film opens innocently enough showing us the main character, Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) on a date with a young man. Things are going well and it’s clear that the night will end with them waking up together the next morning. Only Kira wakes alone and it’s more and more unclear as the day goes on whether the date actually happened at all. As if her seeming psychosis isn’t torturing enough for young Kira, her skin starts to break out on her fingers. It is an allergy? A viral infection? An emotional/psychological reaction to the date — or the memory of a date that only happened in her imagination?
Although answers will eventually be given, don’t expect them to be delivered too soon or too easily because the film will raise a lot more before any ‘truth’ is revealed. Kira’s paranoia at not being able to remember that the first date haunts every interaction she has as the movie moves along. Is the next-door neighbor, Sophia (Lucie Aron), real or a figment of her imagination? Is the doctor (played by horror film icon Barbara Crampton) she visits trying to help her or hurt her? And is she really murdering all these women, skinning them alive and then adhering their flesh to hers?
It would be unfair to spoil the fun of watching Replace; suffice it to say that all will be revealed in a very satisfying way by the time the credits roll. And once you have all the answers, you can watch it again and focus on the things that make Replace so effective. The acting is strong, particularly from Rebecca Forsythe (daughter of genre star William Forsythe). Not only does she do a good job of showing us a woman walking the knife-edge between reality and insanity, but her facial expressions make every time her character peels off her drying, dying skin look extremely painful. The fact that a good chunk of her screen time is spent doing this, and that she makes every time a visceral experience for the audience, is laudable.
The effects in Replace are fantastic, and play out as far more than just well-done prosthetics. The way the FX team blends sound and visuals so you not only see the skin being peeled back but hear it too makes you physically feel it. While Replace will certainly play well on a big home entertainment system, the impact of the intimacy of watching it on a small screen and listening through headphones should not be underestimated.
And while it’s fine to praise the directing, acting and effects of a film like Replace, perhaps the best way to judge its effectiveness is the way your mind will spin the first time you scratch yourself after seeing it as all those questions come back to haunt you.
- John Black, Replace