“I’m an old soul.”
Rachel (Rachel VanDuzer) blurts out these words in Justin McConnell’s Lifechanger to cover her strange declaration to fellow drinker Julia (Lora Blake) that she has been frequenting the bar since the Seventies. After all, young Rachel cannot possibly be a septuagenarian. She also, confusingly, introduces herself to Julia by a false (and male-sounding) name, Drew.
In this latest feature from the writer/director of 2016’s single-take thriller Broken Mile, identity – measured by generation, gender, even name – is slippery. This becomes clear right from the opening scene, in which we see yet another young woman, Emily Roberts (Elitsa Bako), wake up bloody besides a desiccated corpse and check herself out in the mirror, even as the voice of the first-person narrator telling us what this murderess thinks and feels is clearly that of a male (Bill Oberst Jr). “It’s repetitive, it’s necessary, and it’s lonely,” is how the voice describes this life of casual killing and pure survival, as we watch Emily meticulously saw the corpse into pieces before burning it in a field and burying the charred remains in a barn. Viewers might be forgiven for supposing that they are watching a film about a trans serial killer – and in a way they are. For this character, like the antagonist in DJ Caruso’s Taking Lives, assumes the identity of his victims – and does so supernaturally, like the alien in Jack Sholder’s The Hidden or the dark angel in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen. The big difference, though, is that Lifechanger is told entirely from the body-swapper’s point of view, with his voice anchoring a character played by multiple actors of different ages, ethnicities and sexes.
The other difference is that this is a twisted romance. Drew may have to take someone’s body every few hours to stop putrefying, and he may be discovering that after many decades of this vicarious, schizophrenic lifestyle, he is no longer recovering from the transitions as well as he used to – but he nonetheless always gravitates back to that bar, and to Julia, repeatedly conversing with her even though she never realises that she is chatting every night with the same person in a different body. So while on the one hand, Drew is a Psycho with deep mummy issues of his own, and on the other he is a particularly persistent, if entirely unnoticed, stalker, he is also desperate for love, for settling down, and for an existence that is altogether less fleeting. The scene where he tries, against the clock, to explain his unusual condition to Julia and to declare his inveterate feelings for her recalls Phil Connors attempting, ad nauseam, to describe his endlessly repeating day to Rita Hanson in Groundhog Day. For Drew’s is an impossible love, and the frustration of his yearning, regularly punctuated by grisly murders, comes with a bittersweet melancholy.
Lifechanger may initially present itself as an idiosyncratic spin on the slasher, but it is ultimately a tragedy, tracing one man’s very gradual realisation that what he had always deemed “necessary” was in fact a matter of moral choice, with a guilt attached that will survive as long as he does. Not only is the film set around Christmas, but it is also concerned with a man born again, and again, and again – but this old soul, rotten within as much as without, is doomed from the start to destroy what he loves and to lose himself.
Lifechanger was seen and reviewed at Fantasia 2018.