[Review] "Lifechanger" is a unique love story set in the realm of body-hopping horror
Have you ever wanted to be someone different? Of course you have. We’ve all wanted to be the famous movie star, or the hall of fame athlete, the renowned artist, the successful business owner, etc. Whoever you’ve dreamed of being, odds are it’s an enjoyable fantasy. But what if you had to become someone else, anyone else, or face the ultimate consequence of death? And what if you had to keep doing it? Lifechanger looks to explore that very concept…
…Written/directed by Justin McConnell (Galaxy of Horrors “wraparound” segment), Lifechanger tells the story of Drew (voiced by the exceptional Bill Oberst Jr.), a shapeshifter who, since the age of 12, has lived a life of many lives, forced to switch bodies every so often because of his “disease”, one which kills the people he switches bodies with. Having finally discovered love, or what he thinks of as love, Drew finds himself on a bloody quest to be with the woman of his dreams, a quest made all the more difficult by his constantly changing faces.
I have always been fascinated by body-switching horror. From the classic alien horror flick The Hidden (1987), to the outstanding Denzel Washington starring Fallen, it is a sub-genre which allows for so much mystery, surprise, and insane practical FX, because you never know who to suspect as the killer, and generally, the “switching” process isn’t exactly clean. What makes McConnell’s film stand out is that Lifechanger takes a much different approach to the subject. Whereas the abovementioned films all follow some sort of hero, Lifechanger puts us directly in the shoes of our killer, Drew, and forces us to question whether or not he deserves forgiveness for the many, many lives which he has taken. As the character states early on, he sheds blood for survival. To him, it’s become as routine as a job, a necessary element of day to day life. You see, Drew is inflicted with a strange disease which, every so often, begins to decompose his body. When that happens, Drew must immediately find someone to take over, and in return, murder, so that he can continue living until that body decomposes, and so on and so forth. It’s an inspired decision to follow Drew, our killer, because not only does it allow the audience to find some sort of relation to this mass murderer, but it makes us question what we would do. Would you kill over and over again, no matter the cost, if it meant living another day?
The decision is one that comes with a lot of risk, since following Drew as our primary character, a character whom we never leave the side of, also means that McConnell must depend on various actors to play the same person and deliver a strong enough performance to carry the film. It’s a decision that pays off beautifully. McConnell’s script is one full of complex emotion and choices, which allows the various actors/actresses who walk in Drew’s shoes to deliver powerful performances, and credit to each of them for never breaking the illusion that they are all the same person. Each cast member that takes on the role of Drew does an excellent job in convincing the audience that they are all an embodiment of the same guy. Each brings a sense of tragedy, fear, and a primal instinct to survive, that though most of the cast is only given a handful of minutes on screen, they are all memorable for their brief performance. It’s a credit to McConnell and his direction of the cast, as it cannot be easy to make a large group of people come off as one singular personality, but he does so masterfully.
And as for that personality, well, Drew is certainly a fascinating human being, if that is indeed what he is. He may come off as a bit heartless because of his attitude towards killing, exaggerated by the cold, drab colors present throughout Sasha Moric’s well-shot cinematography, but again, he takes no pleasure in it. That isn’t to say that Drew isn’t a creepy horror villain. There are few things more uncomfortable than watching Drew step into a dentist’s office to perform a procedure on a kid, knowing that he is in fact not actually a dentist. My teeth cringe to think about it. Unfortunately, eerie moments like these are few and far between. But what makes Drew really stand apart from other “body-hoppers” in horror is his inability to love, since he so rarely gets the time to fall for someone. Drew’s story, aside from the supernatural, is one that audiences can connect with, as most of us at one time or another have felt the desperation to either feel love or catch the loving attention of someone we care about.
This is where Lifechanger becomes more than just a run of the mill horror film. McConnell’s film is not the typical slasher flick which it could be. Instead, Lifechanger is a tragic love story about one man’s desperation to convince someone to love him back. That someone happens to be Julia (Lora Burke), a woman that Drew frequently visits at the same bar, always with a new face, always hoping that this will be the time that he goes home with her and can convince her to love him for who he really is. Lifechanger plays out like the horror version of 50 First Dates, with Drew constantly having to redo his efforts to get Julia to be with him. Conceptually, it’s an eerie idea, imagining yourself in Julia’s shoes and knowing that the face you’re speaking to does not belong to the mind on the inside. What I love about McConnell’s script here is the way in which he plays with body image and sexuality. With Drew changing bodies every few scenes, the character isn’t bound to any sort of sex/sexuality. It’s all about the emotions he and Julia feel, which is the way love should be perceived. Julia, though a little different each time, responds with the same warm characteristics towards Drew, no matter his race or gender in that moment, shedding light on the fact that love is a strong connection which is not bound to such trivial things as looks or sex. Drew is a gender-neutral villain, which opens up the possibility for McConnell to explore love beyond sexual “norms”.
Lifechanger does, however, seemingly have a dark view on the concept of love itself, which weakens the effect of the themes. Not only does just about every person whom Drew possesses seem to be cheating on their significant other, but Drew’s love for Julia, acquired from the body of someone else, is itself a fabrication. Does Drew really love her, or does he just think it’s love he feels, because he’s never felt the real thing? While an interesting idea, this question negates the impact of Drew’s overall drive, lessening the tragedy of Drew’s conflict and transforming him in the mind of the viewer into your average dude who can’t take a hint. Drew’s obsession with Julia would be much more meaningful if it was purely genuine. Burke rescues the narrative thankfully, as she is utterly heartbreaking in her role, a woman who any one of us could fall in love with thanks to her charming personality.
For a film which involves so much death, horror fans may be disappointed to know that Lifechanger, unfortunately, is not all that suspenseful of a film. While McConnell delivers a tension filled final scene between Drew and Julia, much of the film leading up to that plays out as more of a simple character drama. Many of the more horrific elements come off a bit dull or are underwhelming in terms of suspense, likely due to the cold nature in which they are filmed, representative of the lens in which Drew views these moments. Though there are some excellent body horror effects present in Lifechanger, they are used sparingly. Not necessarily a criticism of the film, but more an observation, McConnell seems more focused on the poetic drama of Drew’s situation and less on the nature of the horror, which will leave some genre fans craving more and leaving unsatisfied.
Lifechanger is now available on VOD.
By Matt Konopka