Norbert Keil’s film – which he coscripted with genre veteran Richard Stanley – fits in with a recent mini-trend of movies about women undergoing bizarre physical transformations (Bite, Contracted, Let Her Out) but also harks back to the Cronenbergian ‘body horror’ boom of the 1980s (note how Shivers, Rabid and The Brood all have ‘typhoid Mary’ characters – though the condition in Replace isn’t catching). There are even elements from The Leech Woman, Seconds and Countess Dracula in the mix. It has good, uncomfortable physical detail and a solid lead performance from Rebecca Forsythe, plus some effective, disorienting tricks with time … though it does eventually devolve into something close to a vampire movie with a protagonist who needs to kill (taking skin, not blood) to survive.
It opens with pianist Kira Mabon (Forsythe) hooking up with Jonas (Sean Knopp) and heading back to his impressive New York apartment, which is in a bad district … only when she wakes up, it’s some years later, Jonas is nowhere around and she lives in the flat. She also has what looks like crusted wax on her fingers, which turns out to be what dermatologist Dr Crober (Barbara Crampton) – who favours the sort of red robe-like garments the Mantle Twins wear in Dead Ringers – diagnoses as ‘dryness’. When the dryness spreads up her arm, Kira accidentally discovers that she can fix patches of other people’s skin and have it adhere to replace her own – a trip to the morgue reveals that it has to be living skin or taken from the freshly dead, which prompts her to overcome her qualms and start hunting in clubs. Sophia (Lucie Aron), Kira’s unfeasably beautiful and apparently smitten neighbour, knows more than she’s saying … but her part in it all, like Dr Crober’s, remains ambiguous.
Kira’s inability to remember much of her former life and the ellipses in the narrative make for an occasionally disconcerting storyline, but when the gaps are filled in, there’s a poignant aspect to her situation. It has a bit of fannishness – characters called Loomis and Myers – which oddly evokes the ‘80s of name-droppers like Night of the Creeps, but it’s fairly rigorously concentrated on its protagonist’s thorny situation. A German-Canadian film set in New York, it has a distinctive shadow-and-neon look.