The Hughes family is one just barely clinging to hope after a terrible tragedy. Following the loss of their daughter, Mark (Josh Close), Mary (Selma Blair) and their preteen son Brandon attempt to heal together at their upstate vacation home, the air thick with tension. Mark has been working so hard that by the time he’s taken a break in the wake of their loss, Mary doesn’t even recognize him. And yet, they’re the ideal candidates for suffering in the moody, disquieting “Replicas.”
The family isn’t away long before they’re visited by guests Bobby (James D’Arcy), Jane (Rachel Miner) and Jared, a neighboring clan with an overly friendly demeanor who casually invite themselves over. Still emotionally hung over, and wondering why these strangers are leaving firewood on the premises at such an early time, Mark is rude and dismissive. When its clear they won’t take no for an answer, Mark surrenders to the suggestion of a shared lunch in the afternoon.
Once they arrive, Bobby and Jane’s folksy nature hides desperate prodding, as they pair off with Marcy and Mark, respectively, asking a series of increasingly revealing questions. Mark is testy but open with the flighty, maternal Jane, while Marcy noticeably bristles at what begins to feel like an interrogation from the aggressive Bobby. Marcy asks where the hunger for information comes from and Bobby, playfully toying with Mark’s glasses, replies with nervousness and flirtation. Mark, meanwhile begins to turn the questions on the mysterious Jane, who stammers half-answers before changing the subject. Fortunately, nine year old Brandon has the good fortune to be lured to the silence of video games with the interlopers’ child, a bucktoothed moppet with a thousand-mile stare.
The dinner sequence is where “Replicas” begins to reveal itself, with Mary and Mark noticing their smallest gestures copied by these mysterious visitors. It begins with postures, then a laugh, and then a spilled drink, allowing Bobby an opportunity to wear Mark’s shirt. The first unsettling element of this scenario is home invasion via ingratiating kindness. The second, and more disconcerting one, is the mimicking of your most mundane behaviors in the safety of your own home. The perversion of commonality, the visualization of “keeping up with the joneses” writ large.
Without revealing the third act revelations, “Replicas” carries a strong sense of tension that dissipates once screenwriter Josh Close and director Jeremy Power Regimbal literally decide to give up the ghost. There’s something ethereal and upsetting about having your private self usurped in front of your eyes. To literalize that thread with guns, psycho pop psychology and arcane explanation is to rob the central ideas in “Replicas” of their potency, simply for some cheap, unsatisfying genre thrills. It’s disappointing, considering sharp perceptive work from Selma Blair, wounded but never a victim, first of tragedy, and then savage attack. Invested in flirting with darker ideas, then catering to genre sensibilities, “Replicas” wounds when it can kill. [B-]