Blu-ray review: Replicas (2019)

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Replicas (2019)
Lionsgate, certificate 12 (out 29 April)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

Actors have occasionally been accused of ‘phoning a performance in; with this largely lamebrained excuse for a science fiction thriller, Keanu Reeves (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Matrix trilogy) goes one step further and texts most of his. “We are going straight to Hell,” says fellow scientist Ed as the pair start playing Frankenstein with the newly-deceased remains of Reeves’ wife and children; the rest of us are already there.

At a secret lab on a remote Latin American isle (presumably chosen for that Jurassic Park vibe), Will Foster (Reeves) is using a holographic display cribbed from Tony Stark to implant memories into android brains. After a traffic tragedy wipes out his family, he and Ed (Thomas Middleditch, The Final Girls) clone new bodies to create a fresh off-the-peg domestic unit. So far, so crazy, because a shortfall in the number of amniotic pods Ed could rustle up has already forced Will (or Bill: the film can’t decide, which is typical of Chad St John’s confused screenplay) to jetison his younger daughter.

Reeves demonstrates how deeply this is affecting him by delivering every line like he hasn’t slept for a fortnight (if he’s suffering from insomnia, perhaps he should try watching this film). Meanwhile, his resurrected wife Mona (Alice Eve, Star Trek: Into Darkness and Men in Black 3) is proving memories can’t be buried like last week’s trash, forcing Will into a conversation which is one of the few unexpected moments in this $30M b-movie. Enter the lab’s administrator (John Ortiz, Kong: Skull Island), who forces Reeves to channel his inner John Wick and take the action up a gear to protect his faux family.

Unfortunately, the film’s closing 30 minutes are still hobbled by the lethargy and gormless technobabble of the opening 75, leaving us with a fractured and deeply unfocussed narrative. Its moral perspective is further skewed by the finale, in which the allegedly deleted daughter rematerialises and an android version of Reeves begins offering the resurrection tech to any elderly millionaire with a yen – and sufficient spare yen, or dollars, or rubles – to reboot.

Reeves is reportedly back with Alex Winter right now, shooting a third Bill & Ted. Let’s hope his time-travelling includes telling Replicas director Jeffrey Nachmanoff to order a few critical rewrites and maybe get himself a more convincing lead actor (seriously, Jeffrey, your faith in Reeve’s “dramatic chops” is deeply misplaced).

Extras: commentary by Nachmanoff and executive producer James Dodson; “making of” documentary, including interviews with Reeves and his production partner Stephen Hamel, who came up with the initial story; deleted scenes.

Strip Teaser

Didn’t pick up the November issue of Britain’s longest-running horror magazine, The Dark Side? In that case, you’ll have missed the first instalment of what could become a regular comic strip if we can just persuade editor Allan Bryce he has room.

The artwork’s by my regular collaborator Chrissie Harper (you can see more recent illustrations at her own website, Chez Chrissie, where you can also support Chrissie’s webcomics via her Patreon page). The idea is to lampoon a different horror or science fiction movie each time, and we’ll be concentrating on older films because too many of the more recent releases are already laughable without any input from us.

Anyway, if you like this debut effort, particularly if you’re a regular Dark Side reader, please let Allan know via allan@thedarksidemagazine.com.

Zombie Heat-Death

The Legions of Entropy

[Published in Procrastinations #6, 2008]

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What exactly is the appeal of the zombie in contemporary cinema? Be they the brain-famished cannibals of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the shambling lost souls of Tourneur’s I Walked With a Zombie or the crazed killing machines of Boyle’s 28 Days Later, there seems no end to the march of the resurrected across our cinema screens.

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After all, it’s not as if they’re embued with either the tragic alienation of the Frankenstein monster (English literature’s first and greatest reanimated cadaver) or the shadowy eroticism of the vampire. Even the mummified adulterer Kharis solicits more sympathy from audiences than these personality-depleted icons of the horror genre.

But that, of course, lies at the unbeating heart of the zombie’s mystique. Almost alone in our shared mythology, these creatures are totally devoid of self; they are without motivation or masterplan, the senseless personification of our own mortality. As fast as you run, whatever obstacles you place in their path, you can escape neither their frantic grasp nor the inevitability of your own demise.

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The attraction for film-makers is rather more obvious. The restless undead offer a tabula rasa upon which virtually any theme can be explored, from a satirical broadside against American consumerism (Dawn of the Dead) to quasi-Marxist condemnation of corporate genocide (Zombie Creeping Flesh).

In the hands of a gifted writer-director, they can illuminate the darkest recesses of the human mechanism and the social shells we build around ourselves; in a hack’s, satiate our animalistic thirst for cheap thrills.

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Zombies are the footsoldiers of chaos, the walking embodiment of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. With time, their contagion will spread throughout the globe, whereupon the twisted hunger which drives the corpse army will prove its own undoing. Only then will the dead rest again, and forever.

At the close, all is entropy.

Illustration by the author