INTERVIEW: Director Justin McConnell on Shapeshifting Thriller ‘Lifechanger’

Lifechanger will be playing at London Frightfest 2018.

The screenings will take place at The Prince Charles Cinema on the 24th August at 9.00pm and on the 26th August at 11.15am.

Tickets are available here!

As ever, this year’s Frightfest is chock full of weird and wonderful films, many of which defy easy categorisation. One the films whose unique premise has us intrigued is Justin McConnell‘s new project Lifechanger, the tale of a murderous shapeshifter who must kill to stay close to the woman he loves. We follow the protagonist as his mind bends and warps with the strain of taking on the memories and emotions of his victims, and wonder how far he will go to satisfy his obsessions.

We caught up with Justin to ask about his work ahead of its screening at London Frightfest 2018.

Tom: Lifechanger has been described as an example of ‘romantic horror’. How do you feel about that description?

Justin: I’m not sure it’s incredibly accurate. While to some extent it deals with romance, it’s kind of one-sided due to the nature of the main character. It’s closer to an obsession story, but I don’t want to give away much more than that. It definitely deals with love, and relationships, and how complicated those can be (while still being a violent horror film), but it isn’t exactly a ‘romance horror’ in my mind. It’s more like a serial killer movie with a twisted heart and practical effects sequences.

AmLhd_rgTom: The idea of a shape-changing monster has been explored a few times in horror. What do you think keeps filmmakers drawn to the idea and how does your monster differ from other depictions?

Justin: I think filmmakers are drawn to shape-shifters, especially in horror, because you can think way outside the box in terms of effects and rules of your given creature. Whether it’s The Thing’s FX insanity, or the legendary transformation in ‘An American Werewolf In London’, or the surrealistic effects of Brian Yuzna’s ‘Society’, you can really use your imagination in displaying the visceral horror elements a shapeshifter horror can bring. Plus it opens up the intriguing idea of ‘living in someone else’s skin’, and what you would do if you could just change who you were. In the case of Lifechanger, the idea that he has to do this to live, and doesn’t want to, adds a fresh spin I believe. He’s not just something that wants to consume and kill, he’s a nuanced character with very human needs and a condition that stands in the way of that, and has turned him morally-twisted over time. And the very mechanics of what he is, and how he functions, hasn’t been done before, I believe.

4xefpn8QTom: In the trailer, we catch a glimpse of some impressive practical effects. Were there any sequences that were particularly noteworthy or challenging to shoot?

Justin: There were a few, but I don’t want to give it all away before people see the movie. And the trailer doesn’t really show much, in my mind, of what we actually have overall. But I’ve shot practical effects before over the years, and the biggest thing you have to do is plan to give yourself enough time to get them executed and shot properly. That means listening to your effects team and giving them the respect of enough lead time to get the effects ready, and enough time to showcase them properly on set. There’s one sequence in the movie where we set aside almost an entire shoot day to get. This film was also the first time I’ve worked with animatronics, which in this case took about 10 people to puppeteer properly, even though this effect in the final film is only in the movie for a few seconds. Fight scenes too – you need a lot of time to make them work.

eZgqf5dQTom: Playing the same character across multiple bodies must present some interesting challenges for an actor. Can you give us any insight into how they prepared for the role(s)?

Justin: After we had casted everyone, I sent them all a full-life history of the character Drew, the shapeshifter in the film. From birth until the timeline of the film, so they knew every beat of who this character was, and how they see life. So they could internalize where he’s coming from, and work on that themselves. We then held a ‘Drew Boot Camp’, which was basically a private rehearsal where we discussed the character at length, and came up with ticks and common traits Drew could have in all bodies he inhabits. So while Drew is being played by people from all walks of life, they would still seem like Drew as much as possible. Of course you’re dealing with different people, so the performances aren’t identical in every case, but the character takes on each body’s personality to a degree, so on a story level that’s fine for me.

2hix_T_ATom: Can you point to any other films that had a particular influence on the look or feel of Lifechanger?

Justin: In terms of look and feel, my DOP Sasha Moric and I were going for a very clean, classical style of camerawork and lighting. A lot of the visual touchstones I presented to him as samples were Fincher movies, things like Cold In July, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Only God Forgives, etc. And of course since the film takes place over Christmas, with all the lighting opportunities that brings, we owe a debt to Shane Black I suppose, as the grandfather of Christmas-set movies that aren’t technically Christmas movies. When it come to working that with production design, we had discussions that lead to subtle lighting and colour palette changes to reflect the internal state of Drew at a given time. So the film goes from warmer in tone to cooler as it comes to the end.

LAxLiGNwTom: Lastly, do you have any other upcoming projects that you’d like to let people know about?

Justin: Yes. I’ve currently working on Clapboard Jungle: Surviving the Independent Film Business, which we’re in post on at the moment (it’s a huge doc project, a feature film plus 8 episode digital series, so is taking a while). Serena Whitney and I have written and been developing a feature film adaption of Michael Prescott’s novel Kane for a few years now, which is set to be directed by Serhat Caradee in Australia at the end of the year under the title Mark of Kane. We have our third Little Terrors anthology, Blood Sweat and Terrors, coming out in November across North America. And there’s a bunch of other stuff I can’t talk about at the moment.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Justin McConnell for taking the time to speak to us! You can keep up to date with Justin and Lifechanger on Twitter. Check out the trailer below:


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