There’s definitely something to be said for crafting a perfectly sympathetic monster. Looking back more than eight decades, genre classics like Frankenstein and The Wolf Man were some of the first to blur the lines between good and evil, with characters equally tragic and terrifying. This complexity makes the monsters more impactful, and if you don’t believe that, just ask Guillermo Del Toro. Gesturing to his storage locker full of The Shape of Water awards, he’d assure you that horror needs tragedy. He knows it, and writer/director Justin McConnell knows it.
Fresh off of its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival, McConnell’s Lifechanger features a sympathetic monster in the form of a body-snatching shapeshifter with a broken heart. We follow the disembodied voice of Drew (Bill Oberst Jr.), who guides us through the whole mess of forms he takes in an attempt to reconnect with a lost love. You may be asking yourself, “Was the love lost due to all that body-snatching and shapeshifting?” To which the answer is of course, “Yeah, absolutely.”
At a certain point, Drew’s stolen body will begin to rot, and then it’s on to the next one. Unfortunately for Drew, human meat spoils a little faster than it used to, and by the time we join the story, he’s down to about six hours per body—not a lot of time for rekindling old flames.
I don’t know what this says about me, but in a movie about a literal shapeshifter, I was most incredulous at how Drew—in multiple different bodies—was somehow able to engage the aforementioned old flame in several completely sincere conversations. To her, these people are all total strangers. That’s insane, right? Who is this woman? Is she running for office?
These barstool conversations are definitely a bit slow when compared to the pace of the film as a whole, but they act as a constant in Drew’s otherwise chaotic life. Beyond Oberst’s narration, Drew doesn’t even exist on-screen. Instead, he’s Freddie and Emily and Sam and Rachel—you get the idea. The possibility for confusion here is practically endless, but the cast and direction do a wonderful job making it feel like a singular role.
The visual effects in Lifechanger are also worth mentioning. The expedited decay and rot that spreads over each newly acquired body is gross and rad, and the well-built tension of each forced body transfer is perfectly punctuated with all sorts of gnarly swelling and pulsing. The film, which often plays like a tragic romance, wears these moments of body horror proudly.
What should probably be alarming is that when he’s not turning strangers into horrific mummified husks, Drew seems like a pretty relatable guy. It’s all intentional, of course, as McConnell carefully chooses to focus on moments of humanity and survival amid the body-snatching. It’s all terribly effective. Remember the thing I said at the top about horror needing tragedy? Bingo.
If you’re drawn to character-driven horror with sci-fi undertones, then you, my friend, are in for a treat with Lifechanger. Add it to the list.