Directed by Justin McConnell. Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Elitsa Bako, Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Rachel VanDuzer. Canada 2018 84 minutes. Certificate: 15
Released Digitally by FrightFest Presents on March 11th 2019
“Survival becomes just another job…” Writer-director Justin McConnell’s feature unfolds from the perspective of Drew, an ageing shapeshifter. The first-person narration is voiced by one of the hardest-working and most underrated contemporary horror actors, Bill Oberst Jr, who brings a pitch-perfect elegiac quality to the role, as he conveys a most unusual lifetime of experiences. With his advancing years, this mysterious figure has increasingly needed to regularly move on to new hosts or face death. There’s something charming and gentlemanly about the way he apologises to victims before killing them. Snorting cocaine helps speed up the body-hopping process, where necessary. Although he takes the entirety of his victims’ body, mind and soul, age now means he also carries over injuries sustained by that person to his next physical form. He may have had an extraordinary life, but no one can escape the cruelty of old age.
Shape-shifting / body-hopping antagonists have been regular fixtures in the horror realm, with 80’s genre-hybrid benchmark THE HIDDEN inspiring myriad imitations from Wes Craven’s dreadful SHOCKER to the engagingly goofy JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY. McConnell is more interested in the very human, personal experiences of his main character than the horrific elements of his constant need to dispose of old bodies and hijack new ones. It’s an insight into the banality of even the most bizarre existence. The unusual perspective allows us to experience first-hand the draining of his spirit by the numbing routine, while sharing his tragic loneliness and his occasional escapist refuge in movies. The opening sequence is a scene of horror to the casual observer but entirely average in his life cycle: his latest incarnation, Emily (Elitsa Bako) wakes up in bed with another woman, dismembers her in the bathtub and, having been missing for three days, returns home to stab her partner in the neck.
The core of the movie is the love Drew has for an equally lonely young woman, Julia (Lora Burke), a counsellor and wannabe-writer who spends her evenings propping up a bar that she defines as a place “where time comes to die”. Drew returns to her side in various physical forms in a bid to sustain some kind of relationship despite various identities of different ages and genders. Occasionally, he slips up: when in the body of a 20-year-old woman, he recalls what the bar was like in the 1970’s (“Consider me an old soul.”). The melancholic tone reflects Drew’s ongoing observations of the human race, on the fleeting “moments that matter” and the utter remorse he feels for his own actions in a world where “everything ends” anyway. The bleakness is leavened by a streak of wit, including his commentary, as a beautiful young woman, while experiencing the low point of a typical male douchebag’s lame chat-up lines.
The script fleetingly referencing “skinwalkers” but offers little exploration of Drew’s origins. Its primary focus is on the moving central love story – the success of which can largely be attributed to Burke’s carefully judged, empathetic performance. McConnell makes effective but relatively subtle use of FX and ensures the few moments of on-screen violence are impactful. The disarming climax is, typical of the overall oscillating tone, both intense and poignant as Drew assures a key character “None of this was personal…” The most overt physical horror of the movie is saved for the very end with a sequence nodding to earlier body horror movies and finding surprising beauty in something that could have been merely grotesque. We’re never in doubt about the inevitability of the outcome in a movie that roots an extraordinary character in our own, deceptively ordinary world. A world in which we are all ageing, vulnerable and, in varying degrees, terribly lonely.
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