Review: LIFECHANGER Is the Story of a Shapeshifter With Pathos (And Some Solid Body Horror)
Body horror movies are something of an acquired taste for me. For every flick like The Fly or Videodrome (essentially anything Cronenberg), films that genuinely try to tell a compelling story and have characters you feel connected to WHILE also not skimping on the human body being morphed, crushed and molded into sickly and gross shapes and designed, there are films like Bite, movies that forgo more intricate character studies and development and seem more interested in just grossing you out to the maximum degree. While I appreciate both avenues of thinking, I’d rather have some stake in the characters I am seeing getting contorted and grossly rearranged in front of my eyes.
Now here comes Justin McConnell’s Lifechanger, a character study thriller piece where the person we are studying is a shapeshifter, a being that can absorb someone’s entire physique, memories, voice, etc. while rapidly decaying the true original they are copying. However, they need to do this constantly because the body they copy begins to decay, so they go on through life from one form to another. We’ve seen this type of creature represented in movies and television before, but it has been more in a straight horror approach, classifying them as evil beings that must be stopped. However, what if we got an insight into the daily routine of one of these shapeshifters, seeing what they need to do to stay incognito to the world and go about their lives? Lifechanger attempts to answer that question, and does a pretty good job at making us care, if ever so slightly, for a creature that needs to kill to survive.
Life has been a constant challenge for Drew, a shapeshifter that needs to constantly hop from body to body in order to survive. He has gone through this routine for many years now, needing to copy someone completely, down to their memories, voice, mannerisms, etc. However, for the past few years, Drew has felt that something is missing, the feeling of love, which is directed at nice girl, Julia. During his latest replication, he notices he has carried over an injury from the previous body he inhabited. Seemingly now finally running out of time, with each body he possesses going forward deteriorating quicker and quicker than ever before, can he finally confront the woman he has loved from afar and put a stop to his endless life of being someone else and finally just be Drew?
Upon first hearing about Lifechanger, I was expecting something that was going to just be buckets of gooey bodily harm with a tepid love story shoehorned into the mix of things to try and justify its presence. However, director Justin McConnell surprised me by actually creating quite the little slice of the day-to-day life of a shapeshifter. As we are first introduced to our shapeshifter, Drew, he is currently inhabiting the body of a young woman reported missing for three days. While we never see Drew in his original form, we do hear his true voice, a gruff man, in voiceover by Bill Oberst Jr., throughout the movie. You are immediately sucked into the world of this shapeshifter, someone who needs to kill often and absorb their entire being, and what they need to accomplish to pull of these transfers successfully (or fail in spectacular fashion). McConnell also takes care in setting up a series of rules and guidelines that this particular shapeshifter needs to adhere by (antibiotics and painkillers prolong the shape he currently has, while drugs such as cocaine will speed up the decay process), giving the character more weight and responsibility, something humans can relate to on a basic level. The movie leans more toward a character thriller than the grotesque horror film I was anticipating. Anyone can scrape a few dollars together and throw some gross gnarly effects on the screen, but it doesn’t retain in my brain if there is no substance behind it. For once, I didn’t mind that director held back on showing ample gore (though we do get some body bone contorts and the occasional gross goo), and focused more on the creature himself.
I actually quite enjoyed seeing the shifter go from one body to the other, experiencing different headaches and obstacles that needed to be dealt with, like when the body he inhabits as we start the movie had a boyfriend who reported her missing and a cop comes to check on her at the worst time. We see him start to become sloppy in his choice of body and general decision making, like when he became a dentist who has a wife and two kids. The situation comes to a head when he inhabits the dentist’s office assistant, which leads to multiple mistakes that could lead to utter disarray for this shapeshifting creature. However, the constant relationship that he has with Julia (played with pain in her every action by Lora Burke), are done with great expertise and genuine emotional connections, made even more impressive by the fact that he has these connections with her in the form of conversation between three to four different bodies.
The musical score is also well done throughout the movie, never hitting a bad note or using something completely incorrect for the current situation at hand. The acting is quite good across the board, with great mention to the main leads, led by the aforementioned Bill Oberst Jr. as our shapeshifter Drew, only known as a voice that simply commands all attention when heard, slipping in some black humor and moments of brevity among the grim nature of his current state. Lora Burke as Julia, hides a layer of pain and misery due to a lost child and an estranged husband. When Drew finally comes upon a body he can use to connect with Julia, the ensuing interactions and revelations all come to a head, which I will not spoil here, and wouldn’t have held any sort of weight or meaning without the strong work from both Oberst Jr. and Burke. The final moments of the film are quite striking and leaves you with a few questions about what could have been for this shapeshifting man.
In the end, credit must be given to writer-director Justin McConnell for constructing what is essentially a character piece about a shapeshifter, which also has a ridiculous amount of restraint in not letting it go off the rails and becoming just an all-out gross fest. A thriller, combined with a serviceable love story and surprising sprinkles of black humor dusted here and there, and of course the occasional gross goo to satiate the horror crowd, all combine to create a very effective movie. I never would have thought a modest movie about a shapeshifter would be worth my time, but it pleasantly surprised me and I am happy that it did. I definitely recommend checking it out when it hits VOD on January 1st, 2019.