Tribeca 2012 Review: In REPLICAS Hysteria Isn't Always Enough

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
The sense of dread and terror first time director Jeremy Power Regimbal sets in the opening moments of Replicas is potent, and remains so, until that creeping, crawling something-is-a-miss turns into out and out hysteria by the film's mid-point. It is effective stuff to be sure, handled with more than adequate filmmaking prowess, but by ordeal's end Replicas feels just a step up from your formulaic home-invasion thriller. So what makes it worth a cautious recommendation? Well, read on.

After the accidental death of their young daughter, Mary and Mark Hughes (Selma Blair & Josh Close) take their son Brendon to their vacation home in the woods. The quiet time and space away from their busy urban life is needed; it is clear Mary and Mark's marriage is on the rocks. One rather rude awakening later and the Hughes family find themselves playing dinner hosts to their neighbors Bobby and Jane Sitkowski (James D'Arcy & Rachel Miner), and their son Jared. Bobby is eagerly, overly friendly; Jane is skittish, but quick to put on a smile, though it seems like she's about to burst into tears every time she does it. Mark and Mary are tired, having little patience. The dinner doesn't go well, Bobby constantly asking personal questions, and then when Mark in turn makes an inquiry, Bobby effectively deflects and parries with a follow-up. A series of awkward and increasingly uncomfortable incidents leads to dinner ending early, yet as the Sitkowskis leave, they're upbeat about hosting another dinner at their place soon.

And so, as we very well know at this point in the picture, nothing is as it seems.

The way Power Regimbal approaches the home-invasion thriller feels relevant to the American economic climate, which may be enough for some audiences, but may also may feel trite to others. I'm somewhere in between. By casting Blair and Close as a relatively young and successful couple, and then placing them in an ornate, European style house full of antiques -- an alien world from another generation -- Power Regimbal lays out an interesting set of notes for the family, full of contrast, disconnect and burden. Though this background is probably the most remarkable thing about their characters. For their part Close and Blair are credible in what they need to do, which is mainly swinging back and forth from feeling powerless to powerful. Miner's performance is utterly deranged in a film that really has no mind for subtlety, and yet when her face is constantly twitching, eyes glassy with tears, lips trembling... well... it feels like she's in a totally different movie; she also looks the most phantom-like in a film that has a drained, pallid pallet to begin with. It is D'Arcy who probably gives the most intriguing, and certainly most fun-to-watch performance in the picture, which is saying something of the actor's ability, and especially his charisma, because the material he is given isn't much beyond your standard crazy man schtick.

When you structure your film around an extreme set of events largely taking place in one location, it is the performances that are key in driving your picture home. Replicas gets this half right, more or less riding the coattails of its utter hysteria, and opting not to go much deeper than doing a lot of mirror/reflection shots and some more obvious role reversals. It isn't the intelligent deconstruction of the home-invasion sub genre I was hoping it to be, but Power Regimbal knows how to visually craft a thriller well enough to make Replicas a solid calling card of a first feature. If he lets his images speak a little more on their own without the assistance of a cue-heavy/heaving score, and finds some more ample material to work with, I think we'll have a director to watch.

Replicas screens Saturday, April 28th. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.   
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