By JAMES TUCKER
Good evening and welcome to the first ever Streaming Semetary, where I, your friendly neighborhood undertaker (hopefully Marvel can’t sue me for that particular bit of appropriation), dig through the back catalogs of your favorite streaming services and unearth films that may be transgressive treasures… or awful abominations. Chances are that if you’ve quarantined yourself (like most of the world at this point), you’ve already seen quite a few of the headlining horror movies on Shudder or Netflix. You may be so starved for content that you’re scrolling through your favorite streaming services’ horror movie section right now, wondering if the movies near the bottom of the queue really are as awful as they look. The answer is likely yes… and no. It’s my job to sort out the wheat from the chaff, as it were, and to present to you on a silver platter the delicacies buried at the bottom of these queues, while slapping big fat warning labels on the films too toxic to consume. And fortunately, (for I do hate starting off on the wrong foot) Shudder’s REPLACE is more than worth a watch.
Starring: Rebecca Forsythe, Lucy Aron, Barbara Crampton
Directed by Norbert Keil
Written by Norbert Keil, Richard Stanley
Produced by Felix von Poser
When I cued up REPLACE, I thought what I was about to see would be something like if the de-gloving scene from Gerald’s Game was made into a movie, a cross between the feminist body horror of American Mary and the psychological drama of Raw. To a point that is exactly what this film is, as our protagonist Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe), is suffering from short term memory loss and an unknown disease that causes her skin to age and decompose at an alarming rate. She soon discovers (after a minor accident in her living room) that others’ skin will bond with her own, REPLACE-ing (see what I did there?) her own skin and making the disease disappear… for a time. The temporary cure becomes like an addiction, and we see Kira struggle with her desires before inevitably giving into her desperation, abducting and murdering the first unlucky woman she comes across to perform her unorthodox skin transplants. From her opening monologue, Kira expresses terror at the thought of aging, dying, or becoming less beautiful; after striking up a romantic relationship with her next door neighbor Sophia (Lucie Aron), she has more to lose than ever, driving her to increasingly desperate measures to retain her beauty and save her life.
“A horrifying prognostic for the future of medical technology and the implications of its usage.”
Now here’s where I have to be really careful to avoid spoilers. Like I said, I thought I knew what I was in for with this film. And for the most part, I wasn’t incorrect until the film took a sharp left turn, and the ride got so much more interesting.
REPLACE reads at first like a feminist take on modern beauty standards, the societal pressures that young women face to remain beautiful, and the awful, unhealthy extremes they may be driven to. And for sure, this film has that in SPADES. But a little over the halfway mark it switches gears and becomes a medical thriller, a horrifying prognostic for the future of medical technology and the implications of its usage. Perhaps more than anything else, it becomes a film about the existential implications of the pursuit to stop aging. There’s so much to dissect here about the nature of identity, the trustworthiness of the for-profit medical industry, and the pressure put on women to remain young and beautiful, and the film’s sharp curve into another subgenre of horror only amplifies the potency of its messaging.
Throw in a solid 80’s B-movie soundtrack, excellent performances from it’s main players, and an ending that is guaranteed to make you “WHAT THE FUCK” at the screen and you have a solid Shudder pick on your hands.
I will caution that this movie won’t be everyone’s thing: it is a slow burn, and the action does take a little bit to start ramping up. It has PLENTY of body horror throughout, and I do mean plenty, (seriously, this film isn’t for the squeamish) but the film’s swerve into another genre may not please viewers who were expecting something more straightforward. I would understand if one of the criticisms of this film was that it turned into a Black Mirror episode at the halfway point; it kind of does, and while I believe that this shift in genre underscores the film’s finer points, not everyone will agree with me. This narrative shift also creates a couple of minor plot holes, specifically regarding the motivation of Lucie Aron’s character, but I was able to overlook them.
That being said, if you’re interested in a gripping psychological thriller with body horror elements that eventually becomes something else entirely, I’d recommend giving REPLACE a shot. There are far, far worse ways to spend a Friday night.