Fantasia first look: Replace

Beauty is skin-deep in Cronenbergian body horror Replace, starring Barbara Crampton

Young Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe) and Jonas Swierczynski (Sean Knopp) are on their fifth date, and Kira has decided to spend the night with him. On their way to Jonas’ apartment for the first time together, with their whole future ahead of them, they banter about the different ways that ageing men and women are treated by society. Kira wakes up to find Jonas gone, and the apartment full of her own furnishings, art and bills. As disoriented as we are, Kira meets her neighbour Sophia (Lucie Aron), who insists that Kira was already living there before Sophia moved in some months ago.

Troubled by dry, peeling skin, Kira experiences déjà vu when she visits Dr Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton) at a specialist skincare clinic. Confused all at once by her short-term amnesia, by Jonas’ disappearance and by her dermatological meltdown, Kira discovers she can replenish her rapidly peeling flesh with the skin of others, and starts killing and flaying young women to replace the rotting exterior of her own body.

Directed by Norbert Keil, who co-wrote the script with Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) and Scarlett Amaris, Replace is a German/Canadian co-production which unfolds in the interstices between science fiction and horror previously occupied by David Cronenberg, right down to its Toronto setting and its focus on sinister research clinics and new flesh. Yet the film also falls neatly into a tradition that begins with the historical serial murderess Countess Elizabeth Báthory bathing in the blood of virgins, continues with all manner of Sapphic vampire stories, and ends with films like Marina de Van’s In My Skin (2002) and even Pitof’s Catwoman (2004). For this is body horror told from a female perspective, charting the desire – vain in every sense – for eternal youth.

“Love is growing old together” is the ‘kind-of cheesy’ message written on Kira’s apartment wall – but in a world where men are allowed to age gracefully while women are not, and where it is socially acceptable for men to date younger women but not vice versa, Kira’s amorous attentions shift from men to a woman who seems to love her for more than what is merely skin deep, and submits herself to an experimental procedure in the hope of redressing the gender imbalance. Too bad for those involved that the unintended consequences are so tragic – but Replace is a film that, for all its attacks on the exploitative rapacity of the cosmetics industry, still remains very good looking.

Replace was seen and reviewed at Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information, visit the website.