Wherever Drew goes, a body is sure to follow. Not just sure, a body has to follow.
Drew has to transport himself from body to body if he wants to live; he is convinced he will die if he does not. A long time ago he was able to stay within a new body, take over another person’s identity, for a lot longer. But the Rot is setting in quicker and quicker now. If he needs to switch bodies fast he can speed up the decay if he takes cocaine. Or he can hold off the Rot if he takes excessive amounts of antibiotics. Either way, Drew is delaying the inevitable; he has to kill to live.
Drew searches for Julia, a woman he fell in love with a while ago. He had to leave her once before and lost track of her for a while. Now that he has found her and the cycles between bodies get shorter and shorter Drew as desperately looks for a way to reunite with her once again.
Justin McConnell’s latest horror thriller offering, Lifechanger charges out of the gate, quickly establishing how little time Drew has between bodies. It sets the urgency with which Drew has to hastily act when obtaining a new body. In the first few minutes alone, Drew will have already been forced to switch multiple bodies and identities.
If you think you would get lost with the numerous switches that happen in Lifechanger, never fear. Drew The Narrator, his inner monologue, provides the continuity we need to follow the character’s arc as he tries to reunite with Julia. Though their faces and their bodies may change, and they may act the part of the person they have taken over, McConnell and his cast work together to ensure you always believe this is the same person. If that fails, even using something as simple as the neighbourhood dog tells you who each person Drew has become is still him.
Cracks in Drew’s facade begin to show, however, or there are clues as to how long or how many times Drew has been switching bodies. Drew is also concerned that an injury he recently suffered follows him from body to body, whereas they didn’t before. Desperation to reunite with Julia is beginning to set in.
In regards to the horror in McConnell’s film, when Drew takes over a body and an identity, what is left of the original person is a dried up husk. (Lifeforce anyone?) Drew has to dispose of the bodies, which involves a small selection of tools around the home. The violence to his body-switching victims is kept to the mind's eye, just out of frame or hidden from sight. Sound fills in the blanks for the most parts. There are some other acts of violence not hidden from view, but they are not too grotesque or exploitative.
Body-horror fans will find plenty of the good stuff in McConnell’s film. The makeup effects for the Rot are good, practical and eventually gooey. McConnell employs a handful of digital effects during the switches but by and large sticks with physical, in-camera effects. There is a simply terrific bit in the end, in the set piece beyond what we may have thought was the end of Drew’s story, that is well worth the wait.
McConnell explores new emotional depths and consequences in Lifechanger, deeper than he has in his previous films. When Drew takes over a body, he also feels the love those people had for those close to them. But this love was never his. That changed when he met Julia the first time and he thought he had felt it for real. Otherwise he is emotionally dead to those whose lives he abruptly ends. After one change, Drew the Narrator thinks about how much it hurt that time, and you think for a moment it is because this victim was close to his previous one and he feels some sort of regret for it. But, no, physically the body shifting is beginning to take its toll on him as well.
Lifechanger settles into the pocket when Drew finally finds a body that he can take over which will get him close to Julia like they were before. Staving off the Rot, he reunites with her and carries on in the relationship she thinks she is having with another man.
As the cycle of degradation inevitably comes to a close, Drew decides then is the time to open up to Julia about his real identity. I cannot say that this is a confessional, an act looking for redemption, but I think it most certainly shows how delusional Drew is to the real depth of this relationship. Carrying on where he thinks he has left off the last time, he is the only one in this relationship working off of more than the other. With no clear notion of the pain that he caused Julia when he abruptly left the first time, he is merely acting selfishly at this point, attempting to save his version of their romance.
The ending of Lifechanger may throw you for a loop, as it ended in way I was not expecting. By going beyond the moment of certain tragedy, it went further, carrying on Drew’s story to a point that was most unexpected. Not content with ending his story when most of us would have thought that would be the end, McConnell continues his story about loss, grief, morality, losing sight of yourself and regret, to reinforce all those one more time before the credits roll.
Lifechanger is tragic, sad and ultimately lonely, ending with a story in hand that cannot be told to anyone else.
Review originally published during the Fantasia International Film Festival in July 2018. The film is now available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.