One day, we’re all going to die. It’s an unfortunate but inevitable truth that we all eventually have to face, as unpleasant as it may seem. Hair thins, bones weaken, muscles atrophy, and skin wrinkles. Everyone gets older, and Father Time doesn’t make exceptions for those who take the time to try to trade bargaining chips in exchange for immortality. There is no way to reverse the aging process; to halt the flow of time as it appears on our faces in little crevices and darkened bags under our heavy eyes – but that’s not going to stop Kira from trying.
The sophomore film from German filmmaker Norbert Keil, Replace tells the story of Kira (Rebecca Forsythe), a young woman who finds a flaking try spot on her hand, then watches in horror as she attempts to peel it off and her flesh comes freely with it. Apparently, Kira has a rare dermatological disease which makes her skin age at an exceedingly rapid pace, and as of right now, there is no cure. At least, that’s what Doctor Rafaela Crober (Barbara Crampton) tells her, a woman who seems faintly familiar but whom Kira is unable to recall due to her crippling short-term memory loss that accompanies her newfound skin deep issues.
Just when it seems all hope is lost, Kira has her new girlfriend Sophia (Lucie Aron) over at her apartment for a much-needed night of wine and relaxation, and stumbles upon an otherworldly revelation when she accidentally cuts Sophia’s hand on a broken glass – Kira can replace the dying skin on her own body with that of a stranger’s, and it shockingly takes hold. Now, caught up in the whirlwind of a world that demands youth and beauty long past a human’s expiration date, and drowning in her own insecurity and vanity, Kira realizes what she has to do to stay young forever – she must kill, steal the skin off of her victims’ backs, and use it to replace her own.
It starts out relatively simple, just carving little pieces of flesh here and there that she needs to complete the puzzle of her incomplete anatomy. However, as the dry spots on her body begin to blister and spread rapidly, her bloodlust begins to take on a life of its own, as she morphs from the shy wounded animal into the overtly ravenous butcher. The Grim Reaper comes for us all, but if she keeps this pace, she’ll either outrun the clock or die trying.
It’s quite strange how a movie with such a unique and violently interesting plot could come across as so dull and tedious. With a runtime of just under two hours, this film feels much longer, due in large part to photography involving glaring, blown out blurred lights that in this today’s cinematic feel less inspired and more like a cheap gimmick we’ve seen one too many times. The sporadic dialogue and plot points jump quickly from beat to beat, bringing the cliché atmosphere full circle as the story makes sure to capitalize on what the audience already expects to happen – Kira fears getting older, it makes her push her girlfriend away, her girlfriend gets upset, they fight, they get back together, they declare their love. Kira may be cutting the flesh off of her peers’ cadavers and pasting it over her own brittle bones, but the story itself is as by-the-books as they come. Nothing entirely new is brought to the table aside from the premise, making it feel as though this movie which is almost two hours long could’ve been told in a short film format and been much more successful.
Make no mistake, there’s good stuff here – the concept of taking our culture’s obsession with youth to the extreme of literally killing to get the results we desire is an intriguing viewpoint, there are some truly cringe-worthy moments and it’s it’s nice to see Barbara Crampton taking on the title of mad scientist this time around as opposed to playing one of the ladies the crazed doctor is preying upon (as is the case with most of her recent films, Crampton is undoubtedly the best part of this project). Still, in its attempt to point out the fallacies of investing in fleeting surface level qualities, like physical beauty and the appearance of adolescence, Replace gets in its own way by being just as shallow as the character it is trying to scold. The rising crescendos lead to nothing, the reason behind Kira’s incredible ability to adapt to foreign tissue so well is never revealed, and in the end, the sad truth is that the film that began with such an innovative premise boils down to nothing more than a movie that’s just as superficial as its leading lady.