If you’ve been following Cinema Smack here in 2019, you’ll know that there hasn’t been much praise being thrown around for new films so far this year. Most of the big name theatrical releases have struck out. Luckily though, there have been a number of solid indie movies brought to our attention. Films like West of Sunshine and The Foundation of Criminal Excellence have made early 2019 a little less sad in terms of quality. The same can be said for Justin McConnell’s new film, Lifechanger. Although we missed its video-on-demand release at the start of the year, the film has now been released on blu-ray and DVD as of yesterday (March 12th).
Lifechanger starts out a bit differently than most films as it follows an undefined shapeshifter. To survive, the shapeshifter contacts a living human body to take on a person’s appearance and even his/her memories. Though, this contact also results in the death of each person. Unfortunately for the shapeshifter, Drew, the bodies he possesses fail to last as long as they once did and quickly begin to rot. This leads Drew to have to frequently change bodies and results in the murder of numerous people. As many different people, Drew visits the Monarch Tavern to spark up a conversation with the same woman, Julia (Lora Burke), who is of unknown significance to Drew. As the bodies pile up, it’s safe to wonder if Drew can continue his murderous charade to maintain some semblance of his relationship with Julia.
While Lifechanger is most certainly a horror film at its core, it dabbles in many different genres overall. It definitely takes a lot of influence from the body horror subgenre. While watching some of the film’s more gory scenes, David Cronenberg’s work on films like Videodrome and The Fly come to mind. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser may also have been an influence in the way that both Hellraiser‘s Frank and Lifechanger‘s Drew basically drain nourishment from living people. The corpses in both films have a similar look too. There’s even a slight hint of David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 film, It Follows, as both employ the idea of shapeshifters. Though, their motivation is quite different in each film. Regardless of its many similarities to other horror films, Lifechanger never feels like its blatantly ripping anything off. It’s well versed in the horror genre and it borrows ideas to tell its own story.
In addition to its obvious body horror, the film plays like a mix of a crime thriller, drama, and even a romance. The story is frequently told through Drew’s voiceover (Bill Oberst Jr.) as he controls various human vessels. Meanwhile, due to Drew’s need to rapidly cycle through bodies, people acquainted with his victims are often in search of the people he inhabits. It brings a sense of urgency to the character and film in general as it feels like the walls are continuously closing in. Then, you add in Drew’s connection to Julia. With each new body, Drew absorbs a new appearance, voice, and an entire identity to explore. He uses each to reconnect with Julia and seemingly woo her all over again each time as both man and woman.
The effectiveness of their relationship is a complete testament to the talented cast. Basically, each actor or actress is tasked with forming a similar feeling connection to Lora Burke’s extremely likable Julia. They all do a phenomenal job in accomplishing this while also telling the story of who each of their characters were before Drew took over their bodies. Some of the standouts include Sam White as Sam Richardson and Rachel VanDuzer as Rachel. VanDuzer especially brings a different dynamic to Rachel and Julia’s attraction to one another as the only woman we see Drew visit Julia as. Jack Foley is the real star as Robert during the film’s emotional climax. Even though Foley isn’t the physical representation of the real Drew, you buy his interactions with Burke’s Julia as Drew’s true feelings.
At a brisk 84 minutes, Lifechanger never bores or meanders. Every scene is shown with purpose and effectively propels the story forward. Unfortunately though, this is also the film’s biggest issue. Being so short, the scenes don’t often get a lot of time to breathe. There are jumps in time and even some timing aspects in general that don’t work as well as they should. Drew constantly jumping bodies early in the film is offset later when he’s suddenly able to keep a body longer without a convincing explanation. It’s as if writer/director Justin McConnell had conflicting ideas with how to use his own storytelling mechanic. The usage of time seems to depend on whether a scene is more horror/thriller or romance based. Perhaps with a longer runtime this issue could’ve been hammered out more. Otherwise, McConnell could’ve leaned more towards one specific genre to figure out how to maximize his use of time.
With its minor shortcomings, Lifechanger is still a breeze to watch and quite enjoyable throughout. Even though it has a slight identity crisis with its mishmash of genres, McConnell handles them all well. Again, the film’s biggest problem is that it actually needs more time than it was given overall. Another example of this is the fact that Julia is seemingly bombarded by different personalities at the Monarch Tavern. Basically, every night she sparks up a new friendship with different incarnations of Drew. It just seems strange that she’s so open to these people from all walks of life quickly dominating her time. Yet, Lifechanger juggles all of its ideas, genres, and characters effectively enough and even leaves you with questions and theories. It’s a thoughtful and well made piece of independent cinema that actually leaves you wanting more. If leaving its viewers wanting more is the film’s biggest issue, frankly, that’s a good issue to have.
*Lifechanger is currently available for purchase on blu-ray and DVD here. It’s also available for rent or purchase on video-on-demand platforms such as Amazon Prime.*