Monday, July 17, 2017

Fantasia 2017--Replace--Norbert Keil

Rebecca Forsythe's Kira commands every frame in Norbert Keil's Replace (2017)
Norbert Keil's body horror extravaganza Replace is one of the most gorgeous films I have ever seen at Fantasia.  Seriously, every single frame was drenched in color, and the settings are glorious, whether a scene takes place in Kira's grunge chic apartment, a dingy (but colorfully-lit) nightclub, or the harsh, but stylish minimalism of Dr. Crober's office.  Like The Neon Demon, Replace is rife with sumptuous imagery that dazzles the eye, and I loved looking at it.  Wow.  At times the film replicated some of the very best giallos that I've seen, and there's a definite Argento look with a Cronenberg vibe.

Kira is understandably disturbed by her body's rapid decay
That said, the film also maintains some similar themes to Winding-Refn's art horror, as it focuses on Kira Mabon (Rebecca Forsythe), a young beauty who mysteriously develops some nasty skin rash where her body starts to decay at a rapid rate.  As this film is a horror film, we get to experience close-up shots with lots of icky sounds as Kira peels the skin right from her body.  The film purports to be a treatise on aging, as Kira's story is interspersed with her voice-over narration outlining her fear and contempt for the aging process.

The mysterious Dr. Crober (Barbara Crampton) may have answers to what's ailing Kira
She is yet another (white, thin) beauty who wants to remain that way forever, and she turns to the mysteriously calm/mad scientist Dr. Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton) for help.  Yet Dr. Crober seems to know more than she's letting on, and Kira's inability to remember what happened last week doesn't help matters.

Kira is forced to kill in order to maintain her haunting loveliness
When Kira's bodily deterioration starts to happen too rapidly, and a skin transplant looks to take too long, Kira takes matters into her own hands, and finds replacements for her skin in a series of rather gory and unfortunate murders.  She has become quite the monster.  Still, when we finally get answers to what's happening, the silliness of the film rises to new heights, even if some of the science that inspires the film is grounded in advancements in stem cell research and insights into the aging process.

Sophia (Lucie Aron) is the gorgeous "girl next door" who suddenly falls for Kira
My biggest problem with this film is that it's couched in a quasi-lesbian romance that makes no sense beyond a certain need for gratuitous shots of gorgeous women kissing each other.  I get the appeal (duh), but do we really need to watch monstrous queer women killers YET AGAIN??  Here's another white guy making a film about women and their monstrous desires, and he makes sure that there are as many topless shots of this implausible couple as possible.  It doesn't help that their scenes are shot in such hazy soft-focus with melodramatic music blasting behind them, as if they share some true love amidst the horror.  A critique on the perils of beauty culture and the relationship between femininity and aging?  Not really.

Still, Fantasia has this amazing ability to persuade me to give a film more consideration after I dismiss it for its flaws, chiefly by virtue of listening to the filmmakers talk about their film and the process of making it.  Just as I whispered something about the filmmakers having been totally wasted writing this doozy, Keil and famous genre stalwart and co-writer Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) made a case for their film and its particular charms.  The person who really charmed me was Stanley, in his outback biker get-up, hair flowing, and sharp intelligence in his eyes, as he waxed on about gene therapy, the perils of aging, and the site of memory (is it in our brains or in our D.N.A.)?   Wow, okay.  He also suggested that the film nodded at vampirism, and I can see it, certainly.  He's incredibly smart and articulate, and I would have loved to talk to him for hours about whatever.

Crampton did research at the Buck Institute for aging for the role
Barbara Crampton was also onstage with her characteristic warmth and wit, and she let on that the role of Dr. Crober was originally intended for a male character.  While I'm delighted that she was chosen for the part, and certainly there needs to be more roles for women, I think it might have been better to have that part played by a man.  The Neon Demon's one saving grace was that it really emphasized how horrible men are in relation to women's beauty, and that they were really the driving force behind women killing themselves (and each other) in order to maintain their attraction and desirability. Crampton's role as a cold-hearted, ambitious mad scientist who ruthlessly capitalizes on women's vulnerability and vanity in order to make scientific discoveries does not do women any favors, and just perpetuates the idea that women are bitches who will destroy each other in order to get ahead.  Nice.

Replace is equal parts beautiful and problematic
So, should you see Replace?  Yes, if only to form your own opinion about the film, and also because it is truly gorgeous to look at.  The ending elicited an epic eye roll from me, the twist is beyond silly and undermines any romance that the film presents, but I'm still thinking about the film, and find its comparisons to The Neon Demon to be notable and important.  While its gender politics are a hot mess, this intriguing film is definitely worth a look.