Justin McConnell's lean, fascinating horror-drama blends an intriguing structure with some novel investigation into the psychology of its shape-shifting horror monster.
There’s stalking, and then there’s what the narrator of Lifechanger does. Canadian horror-drama from writer-director Justin McConnell, it jumps right into the action right away, with Drew, the narrator (voiced by Bill Oberst, Jr.) waking up inside the body of a young woman. Drew is a sort of shapeshifter/psychic vampire, who takes over people’s bodies (and, for a short time, their lives), hiding the withered corpses left behind after the change at a farmhouse. We learn virtually nothing about Drew’s origins, or the biology behind his ability to move from one person to the next, only that it can be anywhere from a few hours to several days before the body he inhabits begins to deteriorate, and the only thing that seems to hinder the process is massive amounts of cocaine.
One may wonder why Drew doesn’t simply move from city to city, rather than stick around in one place while bodies stack up like firewood. It’s because he wants to stay close to Julia (Lora Burke), a writer/therapist who, struggling with the death of her young son and subsequent abandonment by her husband, spends more time at the local bar than is probably healthy. Drew is in love with Julia, and connects with her night after night, in the body of everyone from a police detective to a dentist to the dentist’s assistant. Though his mask slips on occasion, Julia is too consumed with her own grief to notice that there’s a pattern to the people she meets at the bar, an instant familiarity that seems both unsettling and comforting at the same time.
Lifechanger focuses at least as much on the practicalities of shapeshifting, like learning how to say your new name (or discovering that you suddenly have a wife and children), as it does on Drew’s twisted sense of devotion. Things take an ever more sinister turn as he both cycles through bodies faster, and as Julia seems ready to open her heart to someone else, leading to an ultimately unsurprising yet gripping and bleak conclusion.
Though it’s what directs its narrative, Drew’s voiceover (along with the occasionally intrusive soundtrack) is one of Lifechanger’s very few weak points. One part hardboiled detective and one part weary lovelorn traveler, he doesn’t so much explain things as comment on them, and it proves mostly unnecessary. The film is wisely economical with on-screen dialogue, and without Drew’s narration it’s occasionally reminiscent of Under the Skin, with similar lingering shots establishing the crushing sense of loneliness looming over the characters, if not the whole town itself.
There’s also the suggestion that everything Drew absorbs from his victims, their hopes, their dreams, their feelings for other people, linger in his memories, which, alas, isn’t explored as much as it could have been. What Lifechanger lacks in the development of one plot point, it makes up for in a fascinating, unnerving storyline with an occasionally sympathetic monster and strong, multidimensional performances, particularly from Lora Burke as Julia, and Jack Foley as Robert, her friend and potential new suitor. Love is forever in Lifechanger – Drew takes it with him wherever he goes.
Lifechanger is screening at the Fantasia Festival.