For horror fans up and down the UK, the highlight of the calendar is Frightfest and since its first-ever event back in 2000, it has gone down as one of our best-known film festivals, with a reputation that extends beyond our tiny little island and deep into the American heartland. Genre favourite Guillermo Del Toro described it as the “Woodstock of Gore”. For their 2018 festival, they are presenting a selection of titles under the banner “the best of the fest on the small screen”. Movies that include The Dark, Secret Santa (the only one which we won’t be covering this week), Lifechanger, Boar, Pimped, and, funnily enough, Fright Fest.
Following on from The Dark, we have the eighth directorial effort from the low-budget journeyman (we don’t mean that in a bad way), Justin McConnell and his movie Lifechanger.
Somewhere between the Hidden (1987) and the Imitation Girl (played at last year’s Frightfest, directed by Natasha Kermani) is Lifechanger. On the face of things, the mysterious being (voiced by Bill Oberst, Jr.) moves from body to body, taking their form, memories, everything, with an almost slasher like glee. Only he doesn’t achieve this by hacking and slashing but by putting his (or her, depending on the occasion) hands on his victim, taking everything from them leaving only a washed-out and bulbous husk of what they formerly were. By a similar token, the last climactic act is full of slimy body horror. You’d think with this idea and these components that we’d be onto a more directly horror riff of Jack Sholder’s lost 1987 classic. But just like how yesterday’s movie, the dark, deviated from the baser genre ideas to tell a dramatic tale so too does the Lifechanger.
This is the reason why I brought up the Imitation Girl, in which, an alien took on the form of a model it spied in a fashion magazine as the movie proceeded to tell two stories of what was ostensibly the same person. Here, it is the same, only extend that idea onto half a dozen, at least, people. The neatest trick the movie pulls off is having each actor play both their original character and the “lifechanger”, which on the face of it doesn’t sound like much but when all those individuals behave like the same person once they have undergone that change. Whether it is their sad eyes or the way they express themselves, they may not look like the same person but they still all feel alike. It’s that thread that makes the core concept behind the movie even remotely relatable. And at the core of this body jumping is a tale of romance, in which the central character made a connection with one woman Lora Burke (Julia) years ago, the one connection he (?) made in his life and constantly returns to a dive bar she goes to every night in the hope of sparking something. Thematically, Lifechanger sees its titular character born over and over again, loosing more and more with each leap – Quantum Leap would also be a relevant parallel – the drama and the threat presented by the amount of time diminishing the older he gets is where the interest lies. If that was the entirety of what Lifechanger was, I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more. As a tale of horrific survival of something unearthly this is a fascinating indie sci-fi fable, however, with the existential musings of the narration, the deeply unsatisfying ending, and the all-too-regular slow burn the movie reduces itself to, the movie runs out of steam long before the credits roll. That being said, I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the mechanics and the performances a work of small wonders.