Replace is extremely cool, this perfect little dystopian mystery with style for days. It stars Rebecca Forsythe as Kira Mabon, a beautiful young woman whose body and mind are both disintegrating in rapid form. She can’t remember anything further back than a week, and she’s got a crumbling, flaking skin condition that starts on her pinky and grows outward and upward, across her stomach, up her arm, onto her breast. Every time Kira picks at it, we cringe, and she picks at it a lot.
Kira has two women in her life who are trying to help her: her neighbor and would-be lover, Sophia (Lucie Aron) and her doctor, genre mainstay Barbara Crampton as Dr. Raphaela Crober. Here’s where I disclose that Crampton is a friend of mine, but she could be my mortal enemy and I’d still want you to know how completely and wholly awesome she is in this movie. She plays a mad scientist with chilly assurance, and Keil decks her out in a red lab coat that brings to mind Dead Ringers in the best possible way.
Keil worked with Hardware’s Richard Stanley on a script that is both tight and twisty, opening in a dreamlike memory of one of Kira’s first dates that later informs what little we know about her. Soon, this enthralling mystery reveals itself to be a treatise on aging, on vanity and our fear of mortality.
It’s also a horror movie – well, science fiction meets body horror – that stars three women. Its central relationship is between two women. Every major choice made in the film, every decisive action is taken by a woman. We learned in the Q&A that Dr. Crober was originally conceived as a man but producers Colin Geddes and Katarina Gligorijevic suggested that the role go to Crampton instead, and it was exactly the right choice. I wonder how I’d feel about Replace if we’d seen a man looming over Kira’s naked, vulnerable form on a gurney instead of Crampton. I think that would be a different movie entirely, and to its disadvantage.
This is such a good-looking film. Keil directs with maximum impact, offering saturated colors, unusual angles and breathtaking lines in every frame. The art direction is really special, as is the score, by Tom Batoy and Franco Tortora, which feels like the best Goblin or Glass or Carpenter throwback, big and powerful, even a touch oppressive at times. You’ll want it on vinyl. It belongs on a record player, something you can listen to from start to finish on a quiet, gloomy day.
Replace is everything I want in a horror film: at once beautiful and extremely gross, female-forward, thoughtful and mysterious and completely fun. It’s the best thing I saw at Fantastia International Film Festival this year, and it’s one you absolutely must keep on your radar until you’re able to see it for yourself.