Lifechanger is an excellent exploration of an often-underexplored part of horror mythology – that of the shapeshifter. While it does not boast a high budget, it’s comfort in the concept allows it to work disadvantages into thematic strengths.
Synopsis: A murderous shapeshifter sets out on a blood-soaked mission to make things right with the woman he loves.
The film works incredibly well, despite the regular changes in actors that the affliction of shapeshifting demands. This is largely due to a well-placed narration (by Bill Oberst Jr.) which keeps us anchored to the central entity of Drew, even as outside presentations and behaviours change. Lora Burke as Julia deserves high praise as she too, forms a likeable anchor for the rest of the film to revolve around and demonstrates great chemistry with several actors within limited screen time.
The other members of the cast too deserve praise as they each only have a short amount of time to make an impression and do so rather well which shows the confidence of the writing in presenting them as fully formed people in their own right, rather than skins which immediately reflect Drew. The fact that Drew is able to retain some element of their own personalities and routine allows them to feel different, keeping a reasonable pace which would possibly be lost if everyone of them behaved in the same way. Again, the narration allows for playing with their roles while retaining the fact that this is really centred on one person.
Given the subject matter, it is not surprising that the film contains some elements of body horror, but these are largely restrained, only giving way to larger set pieces where there is further reason for it. The husks that the shapeshifting process leaves are well-designed and disturbing to look at. Later extended body horror pieces put me in mind of Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon in terms of their shape, movement and references to rebirth. The effects look to be mostly practical, which is even more impressive, especially as there doesn’t seem to be an especially high budget.
Lifechanger is a film which earns all of it’s moments and at heart, is clearly a romance, based on guilt and the need to repair past mistakes. The way it earns these moments is by sustaining a narrative in which we only stay with characters for as long as necessary. At the outset of the film I was slightly concerned by the speed at which a few shifts occur, but this largely appears to be a device to get the idea over quickly and soon settles into providing more important interactions.
Moments of wry humour sit comfortably within the film, even though it certainly isn’t a comedy. Those moments of levity, even those in the form of a sarcastic comment keep the pacing steady – without them it could easily feel too serious and increase a need to push the pace. Lifechanger is an earnest film which is comfortable with it’s sentimentality and it’s placement within a mythology. There are no great attempts made to explain what exactly Drew is and the film is all the stronger for it. Rather than focusing on what Drew is, how to cure it or what causes it, the film finds a stronghold in how personal it is to the central character to right a wrong from one life.
What the film does very well is keep the story personal – a story regarding the missing people that Drew has co-opted is shown on the news and is quickly switched off before a far more personal confrontation. This again allows us an insight into the isolation and loneliness that Drew feels so keenly. It also means that the film does not really need to concern itself with the chase or investigative elements that others might fall into. Like everything else in Drew’s life, any investigation or major happening is secondary to his need to reconnect with Julia.
Patterns kept by people out of a need for comfort is a major theme throughout and this is achieved well through the repetition of settings. Drew is able to find Julia easily because she is always at the same bar and even Drew with all his options for stepping into other people’s lives and routines often takes his new bodies back to the same motel, showing that he finds comfort in his own routines, despite his age and experiences which would suggest that there are infinite options.
Lifechanger is an accomplished and ambitious piece of work which takes its time to unfold. It is quite rare in its willingness to be unashamedly sentimental and even romantic, even though more subversive takes may be more popular. The writing is confident and the performances assured, which all adds up to a very engaging way of telling a story about a relatively underused concept within horror.