Director: Jeremy Power Regimbal
Runtime: 96 minutes
Everyone’s bringing something different to the table when they see Replicas, and that might be a problem. Though engaging, tense, and, for the most part, formally accomplished, Jeremy Power Regimbal‘s film almost forces a viewer to create an internal monologue that constantly asks the same question: What would I do in this situation?
And this situation is a living nightmare. Set in a secluded, quiet woodland area, Replicas centers on Mark (James D’Arcy) and Sarah Hughes (Selma Blair), a married couple still grieving over the loss of their young daughter. What’s worse is that time with their 9-year-old-son, Brendon (Quinn Lord), only makes way for petty fighting, mild resentment, and a tense vacation. A bad scenario, but when their slightly “off” neighbors, Bobby (James D’Arcy) and Jane (Rachel Miner), come over for dinner and the two families don’t meld, a home invasion kicks into gear and squabbling practically becomes a convenience.
Replicas is not exactly a film of surprises; you’ve almost assuredly seen this story before, and I bet there’s at least one instance in which things were handled a little more elegantly. But I personally can attest that, any familiarity with this subgenre notwithstanding, it’s a film that just works. And I’m happy to say several things can help take credit for that, whether it’s the careful ordering of shots and rhythm of dialogue that let the early, pre-kidnap scenes tighten with each passing moment; D’Arcy‘s decision to never let Bobby just be a normal guy, thus allowing him to sort of seep in from the onset; maybe it’s even the frustrating choices our main characters make whenever an escape route opens itself up.
Wait, scratch that last one. I did not write Replicas, natch (Close did), but I couldn’t help and create some alternative path for these people at almost every new plot turn. “Why don’t you just shoot him when the door opens?” “He’s not looking, grab a pan and hit him on the head!” “Duck, and then throw something!” While it’s not necessarily fair to criticize a film for having characters act differently than yourself — especially in the most extreme of circumstances, a time everyone would handle in their own way — I often had the impression that Close‘s screenplay used simple, personal mistakes on the characters’ parts to pad out the runtime when things could have simply wrapped up then and there.
Wouldn’t that have prevented some more tense, impressive scenes from making their way to the screen, however? Well, yes, and that alone allows me to concede some of Replicas‘ more boneheaded moments. Be forewarned, though, that the portions I myself liked may not click with others, and for one fairly simple reason: after things get dead-serious, Regimbal puts subtlety to rest and lets his own craft speak for itself. Speak loudly for itself, actually.
Whereas Michael Haneke spent most of his home invasion thriller(s) focusing on static shots and relative silence, the debut director goes big with tracking pans, overhead angles, handheld cameras, and a booming score which, while strong in its own right, couldn’t ever be mistaken for anything other than the mood-setter of a tense scene.
It’s in tune with the lead, antagonistic performance from D’Arcy, who, as mentioned before, is totally willing to play this guy off as a creep from, I kid you not, the very first profile shot his character gets. Just as I wouldn’t ever refer to Regimbal‘s creative choices — ones I tended to appreciate, mind you — as “layered,” the onscreen work at hand is almost completely and totally one-track.
But, again, it’s not as though a single mode matters when it’s good stuff to begin with. On the other leads’ part, acting-wise, Close is a bit of a non-entity, having written himself a role that almost exclusively requires looking scared. Although the same could be argued about Blair, she simply packs more punch; maybe it’s the fact that she’s playing the more wounded side of the couple — I got a stronger feeling of emotional baggage from her, essentially — and the need to look out for her son. (Either way, it’s a nice reminder that we should be seeing more of her.) To discuss Miner‘s work would be something of a spoiler, admittedly, so I’ll just save anything for yourself and say she handles a strange character with believability.
Replicas kept pulling me in the second everything started to really settle in; it’s from this the moment things begin to incrementally ramp up and up, only to reach a breaking point we all expect but can’t help and relish in. This might not be a “crowd-pleaser” in the strictest sense of the term, but here we have the sort of horror film I want to see more of: quick, effective, a little nasty, and with enough to chew on when the credits roll.
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