While I wrote about “Slender Man” last year, I mentioned that trying to analyze a movie so completely devoid of quality was similar to going into a dissociative state. All of what I thought I knew about movies suddenly meant nothing, because nothing meant anything. Sure, shoot every single scene of the movie without a light on. Completely abandon characters and plotlines. Kill Joey King with a tree. What the hell does it matter? I thought that would be my greatest challenge as a reviewer: putting into words that “Slender Man” wasn’t just a bad movie, it was a nothing movie. Enter “Replicas.”
Keanu Reeves (“John Wick”) stars as William Foster, a brilliant scientist who is this close — this close — to a world-changing breakthrough in transferring human consciousness from a biological subject to a synthetic one if his family and his boss would just get out of his way with their “ethical questions” and their “board meetings.” Luckily for him, his family is quickly killed in a car crash, providing him with not only a relief from those moralistic voices of reason but with new test subjects. Retreating to his home, he clones his family and begins the work that will see their consciousness transferred from their old bodies to their new ones. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything could possibly go wrong.
In order to get at the heart of the journey “Replicas” takes you on, you almost have to break it up into chunks. Trying to digest the whole thing at once can only lead to pain. First, let’s go back to before the beginning. The film was shot in mid-2016 — produced by the not-at-all-fake-sounding Company Films — and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2017, where it was sold to the very-real-why-do-you-ask Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures. The first trailer dropped Oct. of that same year, promising the sort of movie that you’ll find on Reeves’s IMDb ten years from now and say out loud, “He was in that?” In lieu of a release date, the trailer just promised “Replicas” was “coming soon.”
A year and a half passed. To put it in perspective, Barack Obama was still president when “Replicas” was shot, and candidacies for the 2020 election were being announced when it was released. It took a while. Curiously, “Replicas” didn’t undergo any reshoots that would necessitate such a long wait, and by all appearances, it’s the same movie that was screen at TIFF 2017. Expectations weren’t low for “Replicas,” because by the time it found its way to theaters, everyone had basically forgotten it existed. Another trailer dropped, and again as befitting a Keanu Reeves movie that doesn’t begin with the words “John Wick,” everyone basically shrugged.
Now we can get to the movie. That lack of expectations may have played a role in my initial reaction to the film, or at least its first act, which takes the form of a trashy Frankenstein homage that, while not exactly high art, is entertaining nonetheless for its willingness to commit to tropes usually found in horror movies. It plays like a SyFy original movie, but you know what? There’s nothing wrong with a little dumb fun every once in a while.
Then everything starts changing. Plotlines drop like flies; in the most egregious example, the bodies of Reeves’s deceased family members simply disappear between scenes. Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (“Traitor”) starts listening to his worst instincts, resulting in silly directing choice after silly directing choice, like cheesy zooms before obvious trailer lines that resulted in my first unintentional laughs of the movie.
They would not be the last.
From here, it’s hard to discuss what happens without delving into spoilers, and given that I think “Replicas” is a film that has to be seen to be believed — and by that same token, should be seen with a couple of friends and more than a couple of beers — I wouldn’t want to rob you of the impact of seeing some of this for the first time. So in the most general of terms, the horror stylings give way to the cliché sci-fi thriller you’d expect from a movie with the tagline “Some humans are unstoppable.” It’s bad, but more than that, it’s simply boring.
Then everything changes again. Where the first shift was a slow decline from trashy B-movie to the sort of snooze-fest Januaries are made of, it’s possible to pinpoint the exact moment that “Replicas” seals its fate as one of the most memorably bad movies in recent memory. From this moment on, there are more shots at canted angles than there are normal shots, as if the cinematographer passed out halfway through production and was clinging to the camera for support. There are multiple conspiracies, multiple heel turns and multiple laugh-worthy moments — all before the killer robot shows up, because of course there’s a killer robot. I’d say the effects used to bring it to life look like something out of a video game, but frankly, I’ve been playing a lot of “Red Dead Redemption 2” lately and I think my go-to pan for bad effects would be insulting to video games if applied here. It looks like the effects artist took their kids’ box of crayons and just drew a robot on the screen. By this point, “Replicas” barely resembles a real movie as much as it does a movie pitched by a fictional character in a scene meant to satirize everything wrong with Hollywood. If Keanu Reeves ever starred in a sequel to “Tropic Thunder,” this is the fake trailer they’d show before the movie.
I don’t know what to say about “Replicas” besides what I already have. You have to see it to believe it. There’s no way to properly quantify it. Even describing in exact detail what happens on screen wouldn’t do it justice because there’s no way to capture how quickly it moves between different sorts of bad — from affable trash to boring trash to a sort of transcendent trash that forced me to reconsider how I think about movies. If a movie has some highs, does that rectify the fact that it also has some of the most abysmal lows I’ve ever encountered? Or does its slow descent into madness taint everything that came before it? Was I wrong to think there was any good in it to begin with or was everything I thought was remotely remarkable just the result of me believing these things would pay off later or that the writer knew what a pay off was? Are there any lessons to be learned here or is the whole thing just a trial sent by God to test the faith of film fans?
I don’t know. I just don’t know. I feel like Luke Skywalker trying to decide if Darth Vader can still be redeemed even though he blew up a planet. “Replicas” is good. “Replicas” is bad. “Replicas” is all.