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If it’s true, as many have said, that the current trend of
home-invasion movies reflects society’s unease over the potential of foreign
attack, REPLICAS also suggests that we can’t trust the people down the street
REPLICAS, which world-premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival
earlier this year, plays Montreal’s Fantasia festival tonight and goes into general release from
IFC Films later in 2012 as IN THEIR SKIN, starts out with a basic domestic-terror setup.
Well-to-do married couple Mark and Mary Hughes (Joshua Close and Selma Blair)
have recently suffered the death of their young daughter in a traffic accident,
and head up to their rural vacation home with their preteen son Brendon (Quinn
Lord, “Sam” in TRICK ’R TREAT) to emotionally recuperate. Whether the tragedy
put a strain on their marriage or just exacerbated tensions that were already
there, the two have become emotionally alienated, and Mary’s fragile mental
state isn’t helped by a distressing situation that arises when they stop for
gas along the way.
The family has barely settled in before they’re paid a visit
by the neighboring Sakowskis: father Bobby (James D’Arcy), mother Jane (Rachel
Miner) and son Jared (Alex Ferris). The Hugheses would rather be left alone,
but the Sakowskis are forward enough in their pleasantries that the Hugheses
wind up inviting them over for dinner. This leads to the movie’s best, lengthy
setpiece, in which the conversation around the table slowly, stealthily becomes
more awkward and unsettling as Bobby’s attempts at conversation become
increasingly inappropriate. We know, simply by the nature of this subgenre,
that the Sakowskis are up to no good; what makes REPLICAS different from the
likes of THE STRANGERS and KIDNAPPED is the way the villains ingratiate rather
than force their way into the Hugheses’ home.
The suspense, at least for the film’s first half, arises not
from the infliction of violence but from the fact that we can see the Sakowskis’
menacing potential while the emotionally distracted Hugheses can’t. Mark and
Mary’s trauma and distance are persuasively enacted by Close (who also scripted
from a story he wrote with his brother Justin Tyler Close and director Jeremy
Power Regimbal) and Blair, and D’Arcy and Miner are even better. The former
drops just enough hints of threat behind his friendly facade to suggest that
this may not be a guy you want stopping by, while Miner adopts a skittish,
nervous persona that makes her practically unrecognizable from her previous
ingenue roles. (For their part, the kids naturalistically hold up their end.)
Regimbal, making his directorial debut, demonstrates a real skill for building
squirmy unease simply through dialogue exchanges, before a small but violent
outburst makes it clear it’s time for the Sakowskis to leave.
They don’t go away, of course, which leads to REPLICAS’ more
conventional second half in which a siege mentality takes over. The Sakowskis
show their true colors (with D’Arcy just as effective being outwardly menacing
as he is being quietly so), and the Hugheses are forced to turn violent
themselves in order to survive. Even as the ingredients become familiar—escape
attempts, hostage-taking, etc.—Regimbal and his co-writers inject a little
socioeconomic motivation for the Sakowskis’ actions to set the story somewhat
apart; the specifics won’t be elaborated on here, though the movie’s title is a
clue to them. The director also finds interesting, unexpected ways to shoot
some of the action, particuarly one moment that foregrounds the two female
leads as the men engage in conflict behind them.
In the end, REPLICAS works through to its climax because of
the investment we’ve made in the characters during the lengthy setup. By giving
us enough time to get to know both the victims and the villains before they’re
literally at each other’s throats, Regimbal, his writers and cast overcome the
more generic tropes of their material to deliver a tense experience punctuated
by a few moments of genuine shock.
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