The best thing about film festivals is the chance to check out films you might not usually be interested in. Taking a gamble sometimes pays off and presents a story that’s equally surprising and satisfying. That experience happened for me with Lifechanger, playing tonight at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Written and Directed by Justin McConnell, Lifechanger is the story of Drew, a person with a literal identity crisis. Drew is a “skin-walker”, a being that takes over the look, persona and memories of an individual in order to stay alive. After taking on a form, he’s able to live in the new skin for a period before his body begins to rot away. That’s when it’s time to find the next victim. Jumping from one life to the next can be a lonely existence and Drew yearns for something more. Particularly with Julia, a woman (that he gets to know in many forms) at the local tavern. But as his condition worsens, he gets sloppy. Pretty soon his past comes back to haunt him and there’s only so many times you can become a new person to get away.
The write up for Lifechanger on the After Dark website calls the film “a unique blend of body horror and serial killer thriller.” While there is some killing and a few gruesome deaths, this movie feels more like a film noir. It’s a story of a broken person doing one bad thing after another. He’s not doing it out of malice or enjoyment. He’s doing it because he fears death. Drew feels alone and scared and craves a connection. But his situation causes him to live life with a fight-or-flight mentality. It’s very easy to empathize with Drew’s wants and needs, setting him apart from other characters in stories pertaining to skin walkers.
The narrative for Lifechanger is not the usual take we see in this kind of story. More often than not, the story is told from the perspective of a protagonist trying to “catch the killer”. Here, the protagonist is the killer and the viewer never leaves his side, no matter what his form. We follow Drew through six different personas, never once feeling like we’re seeing a new character. The through line of Drew’s character is strong. This is in part to the performances of the actors taking on the role along with a well placed narrative voiced by Bill Oberst Jr. Instead of it feeling like a guide, the voice comes off more as an internal monologue. Drew’s not saying these things to keep us informed. He’s saying them to keep the story straight in his own head. Having all the memories of everyone you’ve “taken” will do that to a guy.
Lora Burke, who plays Julia, gives another great performance in this supporting role. She wowed After Dark audiences last year in Poor Agnes. Here, she shows her range by doing an equally compelling job as a bereaved woman who takes solace in a stiff drink and a stranger’s arms. Aside from Drew’s narration, she’s the only constant throughout the piece and is a strong one at that.
The thing that stands out about Lifechanger above anything else is that it doesn’t speak down to it’s audience. We’re not treated to a history on skin walkers at the beginning of the film. There’s no lengthy exposition scenes breaking down every moment of Drew’s long existence. We’re dropped in the middle of this character’s life and it’s up to the viewer to make sure they pay attention to what’s happening. There’s no force feeding motivation or plot development. It’s all there in the performances, as it should be.
Lifechanger is an interesting and entertaining film that’s definitely worth a trip to the cinema. You can see it tonight at 9:30PM at the Scotiabank Theatre. Get your tickets HERE! And keep checking back for more coverage of TADFF18!
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!