One of the more unique horror films of the year builds on a familiar concept. On it’s face, the story behind LIFECHANGER is simple: a shapeshifter leaves a trail of bodies in its wake, terrorizing a Canadian city. Motivating our protagonist, we’re told, is the love–true love–that transcends our physical existence, in favor of a deeper, spiritual connection.
Writer/Director Justin McConnell’s latest film brings a dark, moody ride, capitalizing on a recent horror trend: introducing a high concept universe by diving right into the action. Exposition sprinkles in throughout the narrative, if at all, as LIFECHANGER trusts its audience to keep up. McConnell pulls this off with mixed results, which are discussed in more detail below. Rather than the more familiar hedonistic shapeshifter, McConnell introduces us to a nostalgic romantic, hell-bent on reuniting with his true love.
The film, however, lacks a true ‘protagonist,’ as he is portrayed on screen by several different actors throughout the film. Granted, the titular LIFECHANGER is somewhat anchored through brilliant voice-over narration by Bill Oberst, Jr (Stuff he’s in). But as the victims continue to mount, our focus continues to change. This decision, driven partially by story and budget, was a gamble that may not pay off for all viewers. While the shifting perspectives result in an interesting change of pace, more traditional movie-goers may find the story unfocused.
In the end, LIFECHANGER loses a bit of emphasis as a result, falling victim to some of the more common horror tropes. Among these are the uncertain ‘rules’ with that familiar ‘nose of wax’ quality to be molded at the whim of the writer to service the plot. While audiences are spared the opening act ‘exposition dump,’ the timing and ability of the shifter to jump bodies feels very discretionary. In addition, injuries appear to crop up only when convenient to the story, and are otherwise mostly disregarded.
Lack of a deep practical effects budget also noticeably detracts from the experience. Kills and transformations happen almost exclusively off screen, while efforts to conceal the lack of effects are painstakingly obvious. While not every film can afford good practical effects, LIFECHANGER fails to really find any creative ways to cover up that deficiency. That said, the makeup effects are very convincing. Ultimately, however, the bulk of the effects budget appears to have been saved for the film’s climax. While the transformation effects clock in at a range starting with ‘gnarly,’ culminating with ‘gross as fuck,’ it sadly falls under the ‘too-little-too-late’ category as well. Preceded by far too many disappointing kills, the finale is akin to a rich, lavish dessert following an entree of air-stuffed rice paper.
Nevertheless, LIFECHANGER is a solid, entertaining film. While not always speaking as clearly as it wants to, McConnell’s narrative does try to constantly build tension and keep the story moving forward. Further, he largely overcomes the challenges of the constantly changing lead, as there is a clear attempt to make each actor feel like a singular character. Overall, McConnell succeeds in providing a unique movie-going experience that, despite a few faults, is definitely worthy of attention.
LIFECHANGER made its world premiere at the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Fantasia 2018: ‘Lifechanger’ Gambles On A Unique Concept [Review]
While far from perfect, the concept and the effort here are worthy of attention. And the climatic special effects are worth sticking through the film’s runtime.