Wednesday, August 22, 2018

FrightFest ’18: Lifechanger

Drew is sort of like a cross-between the alien in The Hidden and the legend of the Wandering Jew (in its more ideologically benign manifestations). To stay alive, he must hop from body to body, using up the vessel, but each time it tears up his soul a little more. He is looking for redemption, but he only seems to find more pain and produce ever higher body counts in Justin McConnell’s Lifechanger (trailer here), which screens during this year’s FrightFest in the UK.

When we first meet Drew, he is in a woman’s body, killing her nosy husband. Fortunately, he has years of experience disposing of bodies. He takes no sadistic pleasure from any of this—quite the contrary. It is simply a cold, hard question of survival. His host bodies expire quickly. He can slow down the decay process with antibiotics or speed it up with cocaine, but one way or another, he will be moving on soon.

The one constant is his eternal monologue, voiced by genre veteran Bill Oberst Jr. Outwardly, Drew will take the forms of men and women of varying ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. He also takes on all their baggage, most definitely starting with their personal relationships. For quite a while, the successive Drews have been trying to find a way to get close to a certain someone from a much early “lifechange.” As a result, there has been quite a bit of turnover in the patronage of her favorite neighborhood tavern.

In some ways, Lifechanger is a darker, deadlier cousin to the fantastical Korean romance, The Beauty Inside. Even though each thesp playing Drew is very different, the cumulative effect of their work is quite impressive. Obviously, McConnell also clearly deserves credit for being an actor’s genre film director. He manages to keep everyone in the battery of Drews mentally and emotionally compatible, while maintaining the sad but sinister vibe.

Arguably, Lifechanger could just as easily be categorized as a thriller or a dark urban fantasy, but it probably makes sense to call it horror, because fans of the genre are probably the most receptive to something a little off-center and hard to classify. There are certainly enough dead bodies to hang with the horror crowd, plus karma is mean as a snake.

There is no weak link in the chain of Drews, but Rachel VanDuzer and Jack Foley definitely stand out, because they get the baton at key dramatic moments. As a result, they both really bring out the sad, acutely human Larry Talbot side of Drew.

In many ways, Lifechanger reconnects with the more empathetic horror tradition of interpreting monsters as tragic, lonely figures alienated from society (the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, etc.). It is smart, mature genre filmmaking, with very little special effects (unless you count the decent supply of blood). Very highly recommended, Lifechanger screens this Friday (8/24) and Sunday (8/26) as part of this year’s FrightFest UK.