My notes on Lifechanger, out in the UK on digital HD March 11.
Writer-director Justin McConnell’s shapeshifter drama follows a human-seeming monster who has something in common with the alien entity of The Hidden, though he drains victims of their shapes and minds like a supernatural version of the lifestealing psycho killer in Taking Lives rather than inhabits a succession of bodies. The entity Drew – voiced by Bill Oberst Jr – would make a decent X-Files monster-of-the-week, but McConnell (of the minimalist end of the world movie The Collapsed) chooses to tell this story from his – its/her/their – point of view, with a confessional voice-over and a lot of rumination on the long-term effects of living like this. It’s intriguing that Drew doesn’t seem to know what kind of vampire he is, or what the rules governing his existence are – though when we meet him he’s reaching some sort of late-life crisis as the shapes he steals decay at a more rapid rate. Once, he could take over someone’s life and live it for years – now, he can barely manage a few hours before battening on someone else. He’s hung up on a single human connection, with Julia (Lora Burke), a woman to whom he (actually, someone whose shape he stole) was once married and who he keeps approaching in a bar as different people and engaging in conversations that pick at an emotional scab.
The film opens with Emily (Elitza Bako) waking up next to a shrivelled corpse that vaguely looks like her – the leftovers after Drew has taken her form – and examining herself for the first signs of inevitable decay … then follows a chain of possessions as Drew careens around town in the shape of (among others) a cop (Steve Kasan), an adulterous dentist (Sam White), a pretty girl who wants a raise (Rachel VanDuzer), and a sexy older gentleman (Jack Foley) who is getting on well with Julia and whose shape Drew uses to make his confessions and plead his case. The creature is losing so much control over his abilities that we peg early on that there’s likely to be a very unhappy outcome to this relationship, especially because his leavings are discovered on an isolated farm and the authorities misdiagnose him (or get to the truth of the matter) by putting his body count down to a serial killer.
Set over an alienating urban Christmas (in the limbo city Toronto often seems to play on film), this has to get past the issue of handing the main role between actors – with each incarnation of Drew a match for the others but striking a slightly different attitude. The paradox is that by taking the audience into his confidence and trying to represent himself as a tragic figure – also a getting-on-for-old man out of his time, who makes slips by talking about how the bar has changed since the seventies when he’s supposed to be a twentysomething woman – Drew seems more and more a monstrous figure. The last act, which compounds an expected development with a fresh revelation, is extremely strong.
Here’s the FrightFest listing.
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