Lifechanger: A well-constructed tragic 'shape-shifter' thriller and doomed love story overcomes its flaws

By Jim Slotek

Rating: B-minus

A movie whose flawed premise is its most intriguing feature, Lifechanger is a “tragic monster” film that doubles as an impossible love story.

The recent Fantasia International Film Fest feature from Canadian writer-director Justin McConnell keeps to a noir note as it follows its cursed protagonist, Drew, a world-weary shape-shifter or “skin-walker” whose very existence requires him to discard whoever’s form he’s taken, and absorb someone else’s (resulting in that person’s hideous death by dessication, leaving an ugly corpse to be disposed of). 

Julia (Lora Burke) waits at the bar for the next shape-shifter to sweep her off her feet in Lifechanger

Julia (Lora Burke) waits at the bar for the next shape-shifter to sweep her off her feet in Lifechanger

Always a difficult state of existence, our anti-hero’s plight is made worse by his aging process, each fleshy shell lasting a shorter and shorter period of days before signs of decay emerge. Though we hear him in voice-over by Bill Oberst Jr., he is played by an assortment of actors (Elitsa Bako, Steve Kasan, Rachel VanDuzer, Jack Foley), each representing a temporary identity.

And each identity is in love with the same woman, Julia (Lora Burke), whose fate it is to be swept off her feet by characters of different gender and to lose each new lover to circumstances she doesn’t understand. 

The premise is quite the house of cards to keep up narratively, and the actors collectively give convincing performances as imposters, trying to “pass” as the person whose identity they stole, and pick up in the same bar with Julia where the last identity left off.

There is a basic logic hole in Lifechanger’s story, however. If your continued existence is predicated on being a reluctant “serial killer,” you’d think he (or she, depending) would end up doing what real serial killers often do: find victims who are unlikely to be missed. A smart skin-walker would troll the streets for homeless people or runaways and cut a swath through the margins of society.

Instead, the victims are people with family, friends and backstories, which puts our tragic monster in a more constant state of near-discovery than needs be.

As practical an approach as that would be, McConnell’s story provides us with a constant sense of danger – either to potential victims or to the skin-walker itself, making Lifechanger a tense experience with minimal effects and maximum mood.

Lifechanger. Written and directed by Justin McConnell. Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Lora Burke, Steve Kasan. Opens December 28 in Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary.