A Sympathetic Killer: A 'Lifechanger' film review
by Will Lindus
There’s a trend in horror films to cast serial killers as protagonists as a means to let us get closer to their decisions, their thought-processes, and to make our skin crawl from the cold, calculated terror that accompanies this proximity. From the musical camp of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, to the social satire of American Psycho, to the exploration of murder as high art found in The House That Jack Built, we (as movie viewers) are fascinated with why someone might choose to go down such a dark, sinister path. And while we may root for these killers - what’s a horror film with a macabre kill count? - we don’t often find ourselves sympathizing with them.
In director Justin McConnell’s low budget horror flick Lifechanger, an entity that once was called Drew consumes the identity of the people he interacts with, taking their form and absorbing their memories while killing them in the process. We learn that Drew (or Emily, or Freddie, or Rachel, or Robert, or whoever he might be in the moment) has been cursed with this affliction since he was twelve years old, and that if he doesn’t go through this process every few days, he will die.
For Drew, his condition is something he has grown accustomed to over the years. He knows how to slow the process with antibiotics, how to anticipate when his body is ready to take on a new identity, and how to properly dispose of the withered husks of his victims. What he can’t shake are the pangs of love he feels for Julia, the wife of one of his former identities. His deep affection for Julia persists through each of his interactions with her, of which she is none the wiser, putting both Drew and Julia on a collision course from which neither may ever recover.
Part of what makes Lifechanger so incredibly compelling is the exemplary narration by Bill Oberst Jr., who voices the ‘real’ identity of Drew. The deep, gravely drawl to the narration feels like that of an old, weary soul, resigned to his fate as a monster while taking no joy in what he is forced to do. Here is a serial killer who we can relate to; even if we don’t condone his actions, we understand why he is the way he is, and we root for him to find some form of happiness, perhaps even in the arms of his precious Julia.
All of this is accomplished on a shoe-string budget. McConnell makes incredible use of makeup effects to drive home the grotesque horror of his tale, and employs muted color correction which drains the life out of each shot the same way Drew drains the lives of his victims. This blend is efficient and effective; the world feels dark and bleak and Drew’s affliction makes your skin crawl. However, the makeup never feels cheap or fake, and the shots are always well-composed and well-lit, never muddy. It’s a balancing act that many small, indie horror films never master.
Throughout the film, Drew takes on many forms, each played by a different actor and for the most part, the performances feel consistent and effective. However, each of these personas also has their own ‘arc’ within the film, and these sections of the story vary in overall quality. Towards the middle of the film, the pacing slags a bit as Drew cycles through multiple victims without moving the overall narrative forward, but for a film clocking in at a brisk 84 minutes, this isn’t overly noticeable and has very little negative impact on the film as a whole.
Bottom Line: Lifechanger appeared almost out of nowhere, having done the festival circuit before landing on streaming services for rental on January 1, 2019. There are a ton of bad horror films available on the various streaming platforms, and fortunately, Lifechanger isn’t one of them. Very likely, this film won’t make much of a splash with mainstream audiences, but as a horror fan myself, it was a very pleasant surprise to start 2019 with such a soulful, well-crafted indie horror film.
3.5 out of 5 Bear Paws