By SCOTT FEINBLATT
Starring Rebecca Forsythe, Lucie Aron and Barbara Crampton
Directed by Norbert Keil
Written by Norbert Keil and Richard Stanley
Premiering tonight at the Los Angeles Film Festival (get info here), the equally erotic and nasty horror-thriller REPLACE is a vehicle for ingenue Rebecca Forsythe and provides a delightfully cold-blooded role for genre favorite Barbara Crampton. While not without some rough patches, the film contains enough satisfying (as well as a few downright brilliant) moments to satiate connoisseurs of both art and genre films.
The story centers on Kira (Forsythe), a girl with some mental issues and a very strange skin disorder. The former entail long-term memory loss and various apparent hallucinations, and the latter involves the severe drying, flaking and crisping off of her skin—and it’s spreading fast. The good news for Kira is that her withering flesh uncannily absorbs grafts of fresh skin; the bad news is that these don’t last long. Thus, she must find either a cure for her condition or a way to sustain her vampiric need for new flesh before her entire body deteriorates.
Making his feature directorial debut with REPLACE, German filmmaker Norbert Keil also co-wrote the script with horror visionary Richard Stanley (HARDWARE), with additional dialogue supplied by Scarlett Amaris. Perhaps as a result of having so many writers, some of the dialogue comes across a bit on the flat side, and a subplot involving Kira’s friendship/love affair with neighbor Sophia (Lucie Aron) doesn’t quite gel. The overall narrative, however, lends itself very well to Keil’s sensual visual style, which demonstrates that the director can take any scene—from a couple sharing a cup of tea to a striptease to a self-examination in a bathroom mirror—and turn it into a mesmerizing showcase of lighting, camera movement and human expression.
Forsythe admirably tackles a role that demands, by turns, a fair amount of viciousness and a great deal of vulnerability. Her intensity is captivating during the scenes in which she is stalking her prey, and her anguish can be felt as she discovers more about the nature of her ailment. If Keil’s cinematographic style didn’t create an indelible visual stamp on nearly every frame of the film, Forsythe would steal every moment she’s on the screen. As it turns out, the intensities of the imagery and Forsythe’s performance balance each other nicely.
Crampton’s turn as Kira’s skin specialist Dr. Rafaela Crober finds her on the other side of the operating table from her seminal role in RE-ANIMATOR. Crampton disappears into the role, adopting a cool, scientific manner befitting Dr. Crober, who comes across as so cold and creepy that one wonders why Kira keeps returning to her. Perhaps it’s due to the doctor’s grand, David Cronenberg-esque operating theater, or perhaps it’s because (sorry, this is a spoiler-free review).
REPLACE is as operatic as horror films get. Its trappings run the gamut from Franco Tortora and Tom Batoy’s diverse score (featuring John Carpenter-style psychotronic flourishes) and great sound design to some very artful and tastefully filmed nudity and shocking, cringe-worthy situations; from classic sequences of dread, creepiness and suspense to, of course, lots of blood and grody skin stuff. Forsythe’s relaxed presence draws the viewer in until the point where her serious acting chops effectively sink their teeth in and leave the viewer stunned by what she has done with this role. Keil’s visuals (with props to cinematographer Tim Peter Kuhn and production designer Fryderyk Swierczynski) give the narrative additional life, the artfully framed shots frequently employing shallow focus along with plenty of dynamism in the soft field—creating a second layer of “skin.” Despite the occasional narrative blemishes, REPLACE is a noteworthy film that should be experienced by lovers of scary and avant-garde cinema alike.