Replicas

Domestic Showdown Meets Social Anxiety

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This isn’t the kind of thriller that gets you all settled in a nice, familiar atmosphere before pulling out the carpet. Canadian feature Replicas (titled Into Their Skin in the version that screened at the AFF) is very, very strange from the get-go.

Grieving after the accidental death of their daughter, Mary (Selma Blair) and Mark (Joshua Close, who also wrote the script) decide to escape with their son to a remote family cottage. Once there, they encounter their neighbours, the Sakowskis, whose admiration of Mary and Mark’s “perfect family” turns violent.

At first, it’s hard to locate the tone first-time director Jeremy Regimbal is trying to establish, because all of the character’s interactions feel weird. Paired with the colour-drained appearance of the film, which lends a monochromatic bleakness to the picturesque woods and posh cottage, it seems the stilted conversations just play into Regimbal's desired atmosphere, favouring a sustained, drawn-out tension over sudden scares.

There’s never any illusion that the Zukowskis are just being neighbourly; all three of them seem utterly bananas from the moment they start forcing bowls of salad on the newcomers. The initial socializing between the two families is a little creepy but a lot awkward: there are many long silences, inappropriate questions, and puzzling comments. Expect to squirm in the dinner scenes, not from fear, but out of desperation for someone to just please make some small talk. This state of discomfort, though, creates suspense in itself: we know the plot is going to topple over into menace at some point, but we’re not sure when or how.

When the inevitable does hit the fan, James D’Arcy and Rachel Miner are very good, milking their roles as the Sakowski couple and clearly relishing some of their more demented lines. Ultimately, Replicas is absorbing in its commitment to oddness from start to finish.

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