Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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To find out more: Replicas

It’s not just the incredible gore and unrelenting brutality that give French filmmakers Julien Maury's and Alexandre Bustillo's modern-day genre classic Inside (2007), an example of horror’s “home invasion” subgenre, its chutzpah: The depraved inventiveness displayed in each plays a huge part in the films’ high-standings. Rather than unimaginatively ape Michael Haneke’s exemplary home invasion masterwork Funny Games, Maury and Bustillo take the basic villain-terrorizes-someone-in-his-or-her-places-of-residence premise, present it familiarly for a brief duration, and then proceed to inspire shock and awe through thoughtfully conceived sequences meant to scare without resorting to any telegraphed moves. Something that Jeremy Power Regimbal unfortunately neglected to do when he wrote the script for Replicas, the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival’s sole home invasion entry that briefly flirts with ingenuity before sinking into tiredness.

There is one thing that Regimbal is undeniably capable of pulling off: a clinical, dread-drenched set-up. The writer/director jumps headfirst into the grisly, opening Replicas with a cleverly shot (entirely from the POV of a car’s driver) and mood-setting execution , via shotgun blast to the cranium, of an anonymous guy in a wife beater and skivvies. Regimbal then transitions directly into the lives of Mark (Josh Close, who also wrote the screenplay) and Mary (Selma Blair) Hughes, who, along with their young son, Brandon (Quinn Lord), are en route to a lavish and secluded cottage in the woods; wracked with sadness over the recent death of their even younger daughter, the humorless Mark and Mary are having intimacy issues.

Those touchy-feely problems are quickly hidden beneath forced pleasantries when a neighboring family—which, like, the Hughes clan, consists of a father, Bobby (James D’Arcy), a mother, Jane (Rachel Miner), and the preteen Jared (Alex Ferris)—unsubtly invites themselves over for dinner. And then cause a meal-time disruption that promptly causes Mark to show them to the closest exit, which doesn’t sit well with his psychotic paternal counterpart. Soon enough, bodies soon hit the floor, sexual perversions arise, and begins Replicas earns its genre stripes.

For its first two acts, Regimbal’s feature film debut is genuinely unnerving, namely due to D’Arcy’s showy and disturbing turn as the world’s worst houseguest. Regimbal, admirably, doesn’t initially frame the film as a home invasion, either; for one, the antagonists are first welcomed, albeit reluctantly, into the victims’ house, and the suspense derives from ill-timed laughs at the dinner table, repeated statements, and copied gestures. It’s a nifty idea: generating tension through quietly alarming mimicry. Before long, Bobby is wearing one of Mark’s button-down shirts, the result of the former clumsily (read: on purpose) spilling wine on his own upper-body threads. It’s a nice The Talented Mr. Ripley-like touch that, sold exceedingly well by D’Arcy and Miner (who faintly mirrors Blair’s moves), hints at a movie ready to deviate from the norm.

Instead, Replicas rapidly begins wearing its Funny Games influences on its proverbial sleeve. The notion of stolen identity takes a backseat to the prerequisite sadism that hits all of the home invasion approach’s familiar, overused tropes. The son’s dog? Yeah, the poor pooch isn’t long for this world. The fact that Mary is gorgeous? Yup, the primary bad guy is going to want a piece of that. And the back-story about the couple’s recently deceased offspring? It’s ultimately, and obviously, sympathy-inspiring uselessness. Despite D’Arcy’s capacity to consistently frighten, Replicas takes a sharp final-half-hour turn into a pit of clichés.

Save for one legitimately shocking sequence, that is, in which Regimbal makes superb use of an edit-free tracking shot, a shotgun, and the element of total surprise. It’s a real oh-shit moment that’s comparable to a particular scene from Inside, though it won’t be spoiled here. Like much of Replicas as a whole, it also displays Regimbal’s potential to one day create a genre knockout if he’s ever able to apply his skills to something less pedestrian.

Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Follow @ComplexPopCult

To find out more: Replicas