Waking up naked next to a desiccated corpse that bears more than a passing resemblance to herself seems nothing new for Emily (Elitsa Bako). Or at least it’s nothing new for Drew (voiced by Bill Oberst Jr.), the entity currently wearing Emily’s body.

After dismembering the corpse, Emily returns home, watches TV, smokes a joint and, when her husband asks too many questions about where she’s been, casually murders him with a corkscrew before stealing the body of a nosy policeman (Steve Kasan)…

Drew is a “skin walker.” Or at least he thinks he is. A shape-shifter, he flits from body to body, absorbing the memories, the lives of those he murders, forced to kill to survive as the bodies he inhabits wear out and rot. And the bodies are wearing out faster than they used to.

But even as his murder rate escalates, Drew is drawn every night to the neighbourhood bar where the lonely, beautiful Julia (Lora Burke) drinks alone, forcing him to wear a different face every time they meet…

On the surface, a melancholic ode to doomed love, but at its dark heart an unsettling study of stalking for the #MeToo generation, there’s shades of Jack Sholder’s The Hidden or Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen to Justin McConnell’s Lifechanger. But where the parasitic alien of The Hidden and the fallen angel of Fallen were creatures of appetite determined to suck the marrow out of their stolen lives as they jumped from body to body, committing murder, mayhem and generally enjoying themselves, McConnell’s Drew really isn’t having any fun, his entire existence an increasingly desperate struggle to survive, a conveyor belt of murder and dismemberment. A moper of the highest order, Drew lacks drive, lacks ambition – Sholder’s alien even briefly ran for President remember! Drew’s sole reason for being is simply to steal a few moments a day with Lora Burke’s Julia, the love of his long life who quite literally doesn’t even know he exists!

“There’s a lot to be said for consistency when you don’t have it anywhere else in your life,” Drew tells Julia as he tries to connect with her over a night’s drinking. But, of course, she doesn’t recognise him. Tonight, he’s wearing the flesh of pretty young brunette Rachel (Rachel Van Duzer), the night before he was a schlubby dentist, the night before that a coked-up cop. Julia is the one consistent thing in his life and he will do anything to possess her, endangering both their lives in the process.

Despite the audience sharing Drew’s point-of-view, we never really get to know him, perhaps because there is nothing to know. When Julia asks one of Drew’s incarnations if he’s a good person, the reply is “I don’t know if I even consider myself a person.” He may have a gruff, world-weary interior monologue but Drew is an unreliable narrator, an empty vessel who speaks of love and loneliness while essentially abusing and controlling the woman he loves, killing everyone who comes close to her, ensuring she remains vulnerable, alone, easy pickings for him.

Drew claims to hold the memories, the experiences, the essences of the people he absorbs but there’s no real evidence of this; he learns nothing, remaining essentially unchanged by the experience of flitting from body to body, race to race, swapping genders, all without thought or consequence, even brushing aside the attempted date-rape of one of his host bodies. While the various actors playing Drew are all good, particularly VanDuzer and Jack Foley, and Lora Burke is sweet and sad as the tragic Julia, you can’t help but shake the feeling that McConnell isn’t quite sure where to take his character, what to do with him.

Throughout Lifechanger I kept thinking of Claire North’s wonderful novel Touch and her chameleon-like protagonist Kepler, an entity who has lived so long, jumping from body to body, life to life, that they may have forgotten who they were but have not forgotten who they are! Kepler is no longer sure what gender they were in the beginning, having worn so many different bodies over the years but still feels guilt about the lives they steal, however briefly, and is essentially a benign parasite. Drew on the other hand is most definitely male, his internal voice masculine, his actions selfish, ultimately destructive, and Drew’s failings are the film’s failings.

While McConnell engages with the grisly mechanics of his protagonist’s life/lives, the selection of victims, the disposal of bodies, the surface subterfuge, he never really grabbles with, or even properly addresses, what it would mean, existentially, to constantly inhabit other people’s lives. Nor does anyone ever recognise Drew for what he truly is. All of us at some point have looked at a loved one and realised they are a stranger to us, that we do not know the person lying next to us. And all of us have been that stranger, have known that dread, that we’ll be found out, exposed, recognised for what we are.

Maybe this is why I’m single.

Creeping right up to the edge of big ideas about identity and what it means to be human then failing to explore them, Lifechanger ultimately settles for being an effectively bleak character study of a lovesick sociopath justifying their crimes in the name of romantic love. We’ve all been there, to be fair.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Lifechanger
3.5Overall Score
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