Drew is a shapeshifter who copies other people, killing them in the process. Not an easy lifestyle to maintain (or explain), if he is to reconnect with the woman he loved most.
Lifechanger reminded me of Spring: a film about a “monster” hiding in plain sight, which is also a love story. But that’s where the similarity ends: the perspective and the tone of the two films are radically different. Lifechanger presents its story from the monster’s anguished point of view, using a deep, dreamlike voiceover (by Bill Oberst Jr.).
Drew’s voiceover gives a crucial continuity to the film: Lifechanger‘s main character – being a shapeshifter of sorts – is portrayed by several different actors (most notably Jack Foley and Steve Kasan); different in terms of age, gender and ethnic background, not just different individuals. But the direction and writing (both by Justin McConnell) are so smooth that the viewer never loses track of who to follow. (Kick me: I’ve now made these switches sound like Dr Who regenerations, though we only get very short scenes of Drew getting used to his new identities.)
The other continuity throughout Lifechanger is Julia (Lora Burke). She’s the only person Drew loved, some years earlier; but he left her suddenly when his body was wearing out, as it put her at risk. Burke has more time on the screen than anyone else in the cast, despite playing the supporting role, as our protagonist never strays far from her, always looking for ways to get close. Burke plays this complex role beautifully: she is still carrying the heartbreak of Drew’s disappearance, though she is also resilient and open.
His pain is more than just about being apart from Julia, it’s also the guilt at the deaths he causes when his body needs to revive. The insightful writing shows this to be tragic, rather than villainous, especially as the story progresses. Drew tells one victim, with regret in his voice:
If I don’t do this, I’ll die. I’m not ready to die, which means you’ll have to.
It’s fascinating to see how Drew copes with his body wearing out more quickly as time goes on, making opportunistic switches; partly panicking and partly drifting from one life to another. Is that how many of us live, with a stream of consciousness, rather than a plan? And the dilemmas over how to weigh up the risks and connect with a love who is not the same as him; these brought me right back to Spring again, though the outcome couldn’t have been more different.
Lifechanger is an independent film from Canada, with a fairly low budget. The cast is virtually unknown, and the acting unpretentious. The special effects are nearly all practical, making the drained corpses quite tangible. The production never looks cheap, but rather the sets and action are real instead (think Under the Skin), making it natural to see things as Drew does. The background score matches the mood of the writing, too; unfussy, and never intrusive. The point is the modesty of the way this film was made really lets the quality of the script speak for itself: This is a genius piece of work from McConnell, swiftly joining my favourites from this year so far.
It may rely on film festivals for a while, but early next year, Lifechanger is due to be released on DVD under the Frightfest Presents label. Please do catch it then, if you don’t have the chance to see it in the big screen: it is powerful, a dark love story like no other.