Even though sci-fi (especially the not so distant kind) has a natural ally in het horror genre, the two are rarely balanced with great effect. Director Norbert Keil set out to change that and produced a film that delivers on both accounts. Replace is an intriguing sci-fi/horror film with a healthy dash of mystery, a film that aims to dazzle but falls just a little short of its aspirations.
Keil is credited as writer/director of Replace, but co-writer Richard Stanley is probably the one who will pique people's interest. Stanley is a cult favorite, best known for Dust Devil and Hardware, both highly regarded early 90s genre films. Stanley worked with Keil on the script and his influence is clearly felt. That said, some of the sci-fi bits (the clinic in particular) do feel a little out-dated (and not in an acceptable retro sci-fi way).
I'm not going to spoil too much, as the film is set up in such a way that the audience joins the main character in her quest to uncover the mystery. I can say the film revolves around Kira Mabon, a young girl in her prime, who suddenly finds herself burdened with a strange skin disease. The condition spreads like crazy and things start spiraling out of control when Kira discovers she can treat it by assimilating skin from other people. This sets her on a murdering rampage in a desperate attempt to control her condition.
It's on a stylistic level that Replace really manages to shine. Use of color and lighting are exquisite and the sets look absolutely lush. The film doesn't sport an overly obvious sci-fi vibe (in fact, it takes a while before you even realize Replace is set in a not so distant future), but everything looks extremely cool, crisp and atmospheric. Sadly the camera work and editing aren't entirely up to par, which leaves a little untapped potential there, something Keil should try to figure out in his next film.
The music is notable in the sense that it's hard to ignore its presence. There are scenes where the score positively adds to the film, but there are also moments when it doesn't really work well with the visuals. The club scene in particular is a weird cut and paste job, where the music messes up the flow of the scene. Generally speaking, some scenes could've benefitted from a slower, more subtle approach, while others could've been a bit tighter and edgier.
While the film suffers from other minor problems (like the somewhat inconsistent acting), I felt that overall Keil succeeded in what he set out to do. Both horror and sci-fi elements are on point, the film sets up an intruiging mystery and unwraps itself at a steady and satisfying pace. It's an atmospheric trip from start to finish, showing lots of stylistic promise and hopefully it will pave the way for a second film, because there's no doubt that Keil deserves a second chance at greatness. And with a little tweaking left and right, that's definitely within reach.