The last few years have seen a small sub-genre emerging from the wider category of body-horror, which can be easily summarized as “Beauty-Horror”. Exemplified in recent films such as “Starry Eyes” and “The Neon Demon;” Beauty Horror typically plays with the contrast between the immaculate beauty standards imposed upon women, and the physical and mental corruption depicted in films such as “Hellraiser” and “The Fly.” Though seemingly opposites, the pairing is a natural one, leading to an exciting and relevant new direction for horror. Norbert Keil’s “Replace” adds to this tradition, asking how much of yourself would you be willing to trade for beauty?
We follow Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) a 20-something, professional pianist living a comfortable life in a big city, who’s pristine skin inexplicably begins flaking away, revealing the raw flesh beneath. Panicking, Kira seeks out the help of skin specialist, Dr. Crober, (Played by horror legend, Barbra Crampton) who seems oddly unconcerned with Kira’s rapidly escalating malady. Through a freak accident Kira learns that she can place new skin (read: other people’s) over her own rotting flesh to temporarily halt her necrosis. It’s an interesting riff on the traditional zombie narrative, and leads to some effective and original gore that sometimes even approaches artful. However, there’s unfortunately another, less original twist. Kira also has amnesia, and aside from some conveniently specific flashbacks, can’t remember the last few weeks of her life.
“Replace” is full of mysterious hallucinations and half-formed flashbacks, and seems to be striving for a Lynchian dreamscape; where we, like Kira, are forced to question what is real and what is only a dream or memory. Unfortunately, the pursuit of this is the film’s biggest stumbling block. Kira’s quest for answers plods along for the majority of the run time, before being abruptly explained in an avalanche of exposition. Producing a slow and rambling plot culminating in a lackluster conclusion instead of the abstract suspense that the director was attempting.
Luckily, the performances are a high-note. It’s always a pleasure to see Barbra Crampton, and she delivers the standout performance of the film. However, it is unfortunate that she is give relatively little screen time, and worse that most of her dialogue consists of finding different ways of telling Kira that she’s unable to help her. Forsythe’s own performance, while solid, is more difficult to interpret. For the majority of the film she remains as hopelessly confused as she is in the beginning, giving the actor limited options to work with.
Despite the lazy amnesia plot device and sluggish pace, the metaphor “Replace” is predicated upon is a compelling one. A woman driven to literally cannibalize other women for their beauty feels surprisingly natural when from every magazine cover photoshopped models shout “be thinner, dress better, look happier”. This concept of women being turned against women, is the emotional heart of the film, and seems to be what the creator was most interested in exploring, it’s just a shame that it isn’t more fleshed out (Pun definitely intended).
3 out of 5 barrels
Review by Matt Miles