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New Release Review (DVD) - REPLACE

replace review
A young woman takes drastic action to cover up her premature aging.







Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Norbert Keil

Starring: Rebecca Forsythe, Lucie Aron, Barbara Crampton, Sean Knopp, Adnan Maral

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In the horror film, as perhaps in life, old age, with its accompanying caducity and physical deterioration, is prime abjection. Our monsters are hags and ogres worn down by both time and the evil which defines them, while our protagonists and victims are more often comprised of beauteous youth; their pretty freshness characterising their purity and heroic status. The zombie is a shambling representation of an advanced decay, the aging process catalysed and unchecked, while other ‘undead’ figures such as vampires literally feed upon anyone younger than them. Films like Countess Dracula and, more recently, The Neon Demon explicate the fear of aging and the fatal subsequence of such dread, and provide thematic prequels for Norbert Keil and Richard Stanley’s (writer/director, co-writer- Richard Stanley!) Replace.

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In this German made (but English language) horror, PYT Kira (Rebecca Forsythe) discovers to her regret that she has this terrible condition where her skin ages rapidly, along with other symptoms such as confusion and amnesia (correlative with early onset senility). Kira does, however, manage to discover a cure, but the bad news is that the remedy involves ripping off other people’s skin and covering her own premature wrinkles with it - yikes!

The price of immortality in the horror film is that you too will become a monster, and so this stylish and strange film follows Kira as she skulks about the streets of a gaudy, night time city in search of both answers to her weird condition and fresh flesh to sustain her youth. She falls in love with a gal pal (Sophia - Lucie Aron), and locates a creepy dermatologist whose interest in Kira may hold the solutions to her situation (the dermatologist is played to icy perfection by the 59 year old Barbara Crampton, whose timeless, angular beauty serves to undermine the entire thesis of the movie…).

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A conundrum throughout, the film’s opening is particularly confusing; we follow Kira and some fella, who clumsily pontificates on the benefits of being an older man rather than a woman of a similar age, en route from a date to his apartment. When they arrive, a blindfolded Kira promptly performs a strip-tease, the display establishing the precious elegance of her youthful frame. Following the first five minutes, the bloke, and any further concessions towards a biased patriarchy, promptly disappear. The film proceeds to settle into a groove of stalk and slash body horror, which for the most part is well executed and provides the sort of vivid genre pleasures you’d hope for, but mainly because Forsythe is such an utterly lovely, compelling presence (to me, she looks like another Olsen sister; a wholesome beauty to contrast the depravity of her character’s actions).

The look and lighting of Replace is giallo squared, with a constant, insistent soundtrack blandly underpinning each scene in an overwhelm of style: the film’s plot is not only perplexing, but the visual arrangement of certain scenes and the narrative sequencing are equally confounding. A closer look at the film’s credits reveal that a translator was employed to convert the screenplay from Deutsch to Englisch - could Replace’s weirdly distancing effect be due to this language barrier? Either way, the resulting film is perhaps a little too slippery to really get its hands on you, in the way that, say, the similar The Neon Demon did.

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And so, from a remove we watch Kira and Sophia indulge in soft core snogging when she is healthy, and are likewise positioned to find her flaking skin utterly repulsive when she isn’t. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for Kira as she inexpertly pursues her victims, choosing only the sexiest candidates? Mind made up to kill, the first place Kira visits is a strip club, where we glimpse a few routines as a sensual chaser to the lesbian displays of earlier. Despite Kira’s ostensible gayness, the film seems calibrated towards a specifically male gaze. Kira’s passivity suggests that she is more victim than villain, and all her potential agency and self-determination is peeled away like old skin. In Replace, a film made by men, it is more acceptable be a dewy complexioned murderer than an old woman (come to think of it, the last thing I saw Richard Stanley involved with was that adaptation of The Mother of Toads - Clark Ashton Smith’s exercise in latent misogyny via fear of larger ladies). Perhaps the horror that Replace really implicates is a masculine one, a juvenile fear of mature women, the sour consequence of a genre-wide fetishisation of feminine youth and beauty.

Replace is on DVD and digital download now.



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