thriller

The Silence

silence

A primeval species that hunts by sound is accidentally unleashed from a cave system. As they spread and take down city after city, one family flees in hopes of reaching an area away from cities. The journey is treacherous and even reaching a remote cabin isn’t enough to keep them safe. The family will not only have to keep each other safe from the creatures, but also from other people.

The Silence is one of a slew of films to recently be released with similar concepts including A Quiet Place and Bird Box. There are definitely similarities between this film and last year’s hit, A Quiet Place, but the novel by Tim Lebbon this film is based on was released in 2015. There is the same basic premise of a family trying to survive in a world where deadly creatures can hunt by sound. The similarities continue as the film focuses on a daughter who is deaf and her relationship with her father. The plots diverge from each other from there, but it is impossible to ignore the similarities.

Brothers Carey and Shane Van Dyke (Chernobyl DiariesThe Sacred) took on adapting Lebbon’s novel for the screen while John R. Leonetti directed (Annabelle, Wish Upon). Despite the multiple similarities between The Silence and other films, there are still some differences that set it apart. One of the biggest differences is that audiences will immediately know the origin of these creatures. Their existence isn’t shrouded in mystery, giving the film almost a more scientific monster movie feel at first (although this part will likely also make horror fans think of films such as The Descent and The Cave). Events quickly escalate after the creatures are released. The audience gets brief introduction to the various characters before they are thrown into the end of the world. Something that makes the daughter in this film different is that she only became deaf three years ago, yet she adapted to her new state of being quickly. There are many instances that force the audience to think what they would do in a similar situation as the family is forced to make numerous difficult decisions. It makes some of the more intense scenes evoke emotions one wouldn’t expect. These are the scenes that will likely stand out the most in the minds of viewers.

The thing that had the potential to make this film stand out the most is the introduction of a bizarre cult. This could have been the most interesting part of the film and it could have added a lot of tension to the film. Unfortunately, it’s never fully developed. The cult isn’t even introduced until the third act of the film. It ends up coming across as an afterthought used simply to make the climax of the film more exciting, but it doesn’t necessarily achieve that.

The Silence is a star-studded film with many familiar faces, a few being familiar for other roles in Netflix original projects. Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, The Blackcoat’s Daughter) stars as Ally. Because Ally is deaf she is able to notice things other are not, such as warning signs of danger. Shipka for the most part delivers a great performance, but there are a few instances where she appears to react to sound despite her character being deaf. Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Spotlight) plays Ally’s father, Hugh. Overall Tucci’s portrayal of Hugh is interesting to watch as he does what he can to protect his family from harm. The biggest issue I have with his performance is likely a choice made by the filmmakers; for a dad who cares so much about the well being of his daughter, he barely ever uses sign language with her. In fact, many conversations with Ally and Hugh make it easy to forget that Ally is deaf because neither character signs very much with each other. They do make a point of saying Ally can read lips, but it still seems like an odd choice. The only time sign language is really used is when the family is in danger and needs to communicate while being completely silent.

There are many interesting visuals in The Silence. The creatures themselves are brought to life with CGI. Considering they are from a dark, sealed off cave, they have the right look one would expect. These things are relatively small, look almost like a cross between a bat and a small pterodactyl-like creature, have pale skin, are blind, and use sound to find their prey. Some of the most gorgeous images in the film are seeing the creatures fly and swarm from afar. It ends up being both terrifying and beautiful all at once. To add to the terror, there is an unexpected amount of practical effects gore throughout the film. Unfortunate victims of the creatures tend to get torn to shreds, and the filmmakers wisely chose not to hold anything back when showing the aftermath.

The Silence has the potential to bring audiences something new and terrifying, but it sadly fails to surpass other films with similar plots. There are some elements that keep the audience interested such as decent performances, a well-known cast, great effects for the creatures, and a healthy dose of blood and gore. What ultimately holds this film back is numerous underdeveloped aspects of the plot. This is the most obvious with the sparing use of sign language, despite the main character being deaf, and with the cult not even being introduced until the third act. The film is entertaining enough to be worth a watch, but it doesn’t do enough to stick with viewers for long.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Us

us

A family takes a trip to their vacation home to unwind. An impromptu trip to Santa Cruz forces the mother to remember childhood trauma. Unfortunately, that trauma follows the family home when they are visited by a deadly family of doppelgängers. Outside their door, people everywhere are being attacked by people who look just like them. The family will have to face off against their look-a-likes in order to survive.

This is only the second feature film written and directed by Jordan Peele, but with this film he has solidified his status as a master of horror. After the success of the Oscar-winning hit, Get Out, Peele decided to go in a different direction with Us. In this film, every American has a doppelgänger who lives underground. These people decided it’s their time to live in the sun and venture out to kill their topside look-a-likes. When the doppelgängers come for the Wilson family, the audience sees something a bit different. The danger is even more grave, and the doppelgängers are absolutely terrifying. The entire premise is disturbing and has edge-of-your-seat tension from start to finish. Peele perfectly breaks up some of that tension with hilariously timed humor. It gives the audience a small bit of relief in the most intense moments without fully taking them out of the moment.

On the surface the film is a thrillingly murderous ride, but upon deeper inspection there is also an interesting social message. Peele is known for including racial issues in Get Out. Now, with Us, Peele explores issues of socioeconomic classes. He includes many different layers to convey this message, some being more obvious than others. The social message combined with subtle clues and Easter eggs throughout the film have come to be a signature of Peele’s filmmaking style. It gives Us a sense of longevity; the more you think about it, the more everything makes sense and the more you watch the film the more details you notice that you may have missed before. Many of these smaller details offer clues for the audience that reveal the various twists and turns the plot takes. If you pay close enough attention to these clues you might be able to figure out certain aspects of the film before they’re revealed. The only potential downside to Peele’s filmmaking style is that certain aspects of the plot may require a bit of research after watching the film in order to make sense of it. More dedicated cinephiles won’t mind this, as they likely do it anyways, but the more casual movie-goers could see this is an annoyance.

The single most compelling aspect of Us is the array of fantastic performances from every single actor. These performances are all the more amazing because almost everyone plays two characters. The shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave) as both Adelaide and her look-a-like Red. Nyong’o’s portrayal of both characters is truly spectacular. Adelaide is a very cautious person after her childhood trauma, and it is that mentality that makes her more prepared for the danger coming for her family. Red is also different from the other doppelgängers and that difference is almost immediately noticeable. The intensity behind Nyong’o’s portrayal of Red is absolutely haunting. Her performance as both characters is so perfect it’s difficult to pick which portrayal I enjoy more. The rest of the Wilson family is also made of of great performances. Winston Duke (Black Panther, Person of Interest) plays Gabe and Abraham, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Hairspray Live!) plays Zora and Umbrae, and Evan Alex (Mani) plays Jason and Pluto. All of them do a stunning job of clearly portraying two different characters that are connected, yet one is much more primal and animalistic than the other.

There are many great stylistic choices made throughout the film. The first one audiences will likely notice is the use of music. Peele tends to use music throughout the film to inject humor into various parts of the film. The songs used are already iconic and well known, but the way he uses them will stand out in the audiences’ minds even after the film ends. The costumes and hair also add an interesting visual element to the film. Specifically, the doppelgängers all have an iconic outfit they all wear that makes them stand out. They even all have a signature weapon in the form of large golden scissors. The doppelgängers all have an unkept look to them. Their hair is messy or greasy, their skin is ashen and pale, they have dark circles under their eyes. The overall look helps to reinforce the mythology behind these characters created by Peele.

Us stabs through the supposed “sophomore slump,” allowing Peele to give audiences a bloody and tension filled film with an underlying social message. In all honesty, this is a very difficult film to review without getting into layers and layers of spoilers. If you pay attention to the cleverly hidden clues, then the film will not only make more sense, but it will also allow the audience to figure things out before they happen. After watching the film, I highly recommend reading through the numerous articles that dissect these clues, then see the film again and again. This is a film that will definitely improve with each watch because of those small details. Combine that with the absolutely perfect performances and the result is an award-worthy film that proves Peele is a talented filmmaker. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10*

*Clarification of my score: Based on the review I gave the film, my number rating may seem low. This is the rating I would give the film based on my initial reaction leaving the theater. I took a few days to think about the film and research a few things before writing this review, so even now I would rate the film higher than my initial reaction.  As I said before, this is a film that gets better over time and with more viewings. 

Between the Trees

trees

Dealing with the stress of a failing marriage, Steve arranges a getaway with his three best friends. Together they rent a remote cabin in the hopes of having a nice quiet hunting trip. It doesn’t take long for these friends to realize they are not alone in those woods. With no cell service and nothing but miles of forest around them, it will be a fight for survival. Only the fittest will escape with their lives.

Directed by Brad Douglas (Besetment) and written by first-time screenwriter Sam Klarreich, Between the Trees is a horror film that combines different subgenres. On the one hand the film is a suspenseful thriller as it follows Steve. He appears to be obsessed with his marriage falling apart and makes a point of asking his two married friends how their marriages are, while also telling them about his own failing marriage. Steve is clearly unstable, and the isolation only seems to exacerbate his deteriorating state of mind. On the other hand, this film is a creature feature. There is something else in the woods with the friends. They kill the offspring of the creature in self-defense, and then the creature tries to hunt them down one by one.

While individually these two premises could be great, and there are some areas of overlap that are quite interesting, they ultimately don’t fit together very well. With how the plot is revealed, it seems that the filmmakers were trying to use the creature aspect as a way to emphasize the tension between the four friends. Instead, the film comes across as two entirely different films, both in content and tone, rammed together like two puzzle pieces that don’t fit. Between the Trees is only an hour and 14 minutes long, but even with that short run time it feels too long. It would have worked so much better as two separate short films. At times the film becomes especially convoluted, mostly when it focuses on the creature aspect. It is the least developed subplot, and as a result viewers will likely be left wondering what this thing is supposed to be, among other questions.

Each performance in Between the Trees is fine, but the characters are all very one-note and lack any depth. Greg James (Wild) plays Steve. The character is written in such a way that leaves little room for James to bring a powerful performance. Steve is quiet, brooding, and only really cares to talk about his marriage. James tries his hardest to push beyond the character created for him, and has a few moments where he is able to show some real intensity, but the writing holds him back. This is a pattern with all the characters. Jonny Lee (Hacked) plays the drunken lady’s man, Mack. Again, Lee’s performance is fine, but there isn’t much more to the character than what I just described. Dan Kyle (Combat Report) portrays manly-man Dave. Dave is the big, tough guy who is the most capable hunter and woodsman of the group. Kyle manages to bring the slightest bit of depth to this character in the way he talks about his wife, albeit very briefly. Finally there is Michael Draper (The Competition) as Josh. This character is another stereotype; he is the most sensitive of the group, loves his wife, and dresses a bit too nicely for a weekend in a cabin so of course that means he is often called “gay” by the unsavory locals. Draper’s performance often goes into the realm of caricature, which doesn’t fit well with the rest of the film, but he at least is able to give us a few surprises with his character.

Normally creature design and practical effects are aspects of a horror film I look forward to most, but they are not great selling points of this film. Before we even see the creatures they are described in terms audiences are familiar with such as “Bigfoot” and “Sasquatch.” These words automatically conjure up visions of large, hairy ape-like beasts roaming the forests. When you finally see the creatures in Between the Trees, you get almost the exact opposite. The adult creature is definitely tall, but other than that these beings are hairless, have pale greyish skin, use bows and arrows, and wear human clothing. It comes across as though very little effort was put into the creature design, and the execution looks like a rubber Halloween mask. They are simply too human and it leaves a lot of lingering questions in the end about how these things could exist without the locals knowing about them.

Between the Trees can’t seem to decide what kind of film it wants to be. It tries very hard to marry two different stories into one plot, but it results in a confusing jumble. There are too many unanswered questions, especially when it comes to the creatures in the film. The archetypes for the four characters are fairly bland and leave little room for the actors to bring any tension or dimension to their performances. Most of the issues with the film can be chalked up to how the film was written and the unfortunate creature design. I appreciate the attempt at doing something different, but as a whole it is not a film I would recommend.

OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10

The Cannibal Club

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A wealthy Brazilian couple live in the lap of luxury. While on the outside they appear to live a typical rich lifestyle, behind closed doors they get up to some eccentric activities. One of those activities is killing and eating young men. The husband is even part of a cannibal club that is exclusive to rich men. When the wife catches the leader of the club in a compromising position, the couple find themselves in a dangerous position that could cost them their lives.

Brazilian writer/director Guto Parente (The Mysterious Death of Pérola) takes his audience on a strange journey with The Cannibal Club. The plot overall follows a specific pattern. We see the two leads, Otavio and Gilda, as they go through a bizarre mating ritual that also involves them killing their next human meal. Then there is a small amount of intrigue as the audience learns about the cannibal club and the various wealthy and powerful men who are apart of it, including Otavio. This allows the audience to meet the leader of the group, and the one who Gilda catches in a compromising position. There is a bit of excitement as Gilda and Otavio try to find a way out of their precarious position without losing their lives, and in the process they recruit a new employee to help them. Then the film reverts back to Gilda and Otavio’s typical mating dance, but with slightly different results.

The Cannibal Club almost comes across as a combination of Eyes Wide Shut and Hostel, but it lacks the true intrigue and thrills of those films. There is a lot of opportunity to build in various twists to add to the suspense, but unfortunately the film feels rather monotone. There are a couple minor moments that might elicit a gasp, but they are mostly there simply for shock value and don’t add anything to the plot. There is also not a lot of focus on the cannibal club itself, despite the title of the film, and instead the focus is on Gilda and Otavio’s strange relationship. This is fine, except it leads to a rather lackluster subplot about the club and a bit of a missed opportunity for more tension and thrills. It also leads to a plot that at times is quite predictable.

One of the stronger parts of this film are the performances. A highlight for me was Ana Luiza Rios (The Last Breath) as Gilda. She is equal parts charming and sinister. It is amazing to watch her be confident and seductive only to then eat a human being with a smile, and Rios portrays her very well. Her husband, Otavio, is played by Tavinho Teixeira (Batguano). Otavio is as cold-hearted as they come, yet he has a soft spot for Gilda. Teixeira does a great job of portraying the two sides of Otavio and his on-screen chemistry with Rios. These two breathe some life into the film that is often times on the dull side.

Another aspect of The Cannibal Club that adds some interest is the visuals. The cinematography alone is very beautiful and enhances the idea of Gilda and Otavio’s opulent, wealthy lifestyle. Especially with how the various locations are filmed, everything looks incredibly expensive, shiny, and unattainable. While they are used at a minimum, the practical effects are also very well done. In one specific scene at the beginning of the film the audience is shown a victim getting butchered and chopped into prime cuts of meat. Not only are the practical effects in this scene frighteningly realistic, they also stand out in the lavish home the scene is set in.

The Cannibal Club has some successful elements, the lack of tension in the plot results in a rather forgettable film. Many parts of the film will feel reminiscent to similar films that came before it, all of them focusing on wealthy clubs who prey on the less fortunate, yet this film doesn’t carry the suspense or excitement of its predecessors. The performances by the two leads are enough to hold my interest and the stunning sets, cinematography, and effects give the audience something to catch the eye. Despite these more successful features, the film will likely be forgotten by the time people pick their “best of 2019” films.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Happy Death Day 2U

death

Tree thought she had broken the loop that forced her to relive the same day (and her death) over and over again. She thought she had defeated her killer. Yet that brief happiness is interrupted when a series of events throw her into another time loop. This time it’s different. She will not only have to keep dying and reliving the same day, but now she will also have to make an impossible decision that could change the rest of her life.

Writer and director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day, Paranormal Activity 3) is at it again with this sci-fi/horror/slasher/comedy mashup. This sequel picks up almost immediately where the first film left off. Poor Tree didn’t even get a full day to enjoy being out of her time loop. Not only does she get stuck in a time loop again, but she is accidentally thrown into an entirely different timeline. It’s up to Tree and her friends, none of whom remember her, to stop the loop. The more difficult decision is whether she will stay in this timeline or go back to her own.

The first film was more of a straightforward slasher-comedy, while this film incorporates even more genres. The most obvious and most important addition is the sci-fi element. In Happy Death Day the film focused on figuring out who the baby face killer was, but in Happy Death Day 2U the focus is on stopping the loop by more scientific means. While some fans of the first film may be disappointed by this change, I think it is brilliant. In a film franchise where the entire premise has to do with reliving the same day over and over, it is important to keep the story fresh so audiences don’t feel like they are watching the same film for the second time in a row. The shift to the sci-fi aspect allows the filmmakers to focus on a new set of characters and a new set of problems. Without giving too much away, this change allowed the film to have an emotional depth that wasn’t present in the first film. Not only do we get to know Tree and other vital characters on a deeper level, but we also watch as Tree is faced with an impossible decision. It tugs at the heartstrings, while still giving plenty of opportunity for humor in the form of Tree’s many deaths and horror in the form of the baby face killer (albeit less horror and baby face than we saw in the previous film).

As a result of the change in tone with the sequel, the performances in Happy Death Day 2U are also much more emotionally driven. Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day, Forever My Girl) is absolutely dazzling as Tree. What makes Rothe such a joy to watch is how well she balances humor with the more heartfelt moments. She is really hilarious, especially with her reaction to reliving the same day and her many deaths, but this film allows the audience to see a side of Tree we haven’t seen before. Tree is a character I would love to see more of, and Rothe is perfect in the role. Israel Broussard (Happy Death Day, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) is also enjoyable to watch as Carter. There is something about Broussard and his portrayal of Carter that is instantly endearing and lovable, and his chemistry with Rothe is fantastic. Honorable mention goes to two actors who bring a lot of comedic relief to the film and their roles: Phi Vu (Happy Death Day, Logan) as Ryan and Rachel Matthews (Happy Death Day) as Danielle.

This PG-13 franchise does a really good job of conveying gore without actually showing anything graphic. With each time Tree dies, the death happens just out of sight or the audience isn’t shown the exact moment of her death, but we see when she wakes up and restarts the day. For example, when Tree dies from electrocution, she wakes up when the day restarts to her hair standing up on end. In another scene Tree plummets to her death. We hear the splat and see others react to the carnage, but it happens just out of frame. This method allows Happy Death Day 2U to have a lot of death to appease older audiences while still keeping a low MPAA rating so more moviegoers can enjoy the film.

Happy Death Day 2U has all the fun of the first film while also incorporating new genres and more depth. Considering this is now one of two films that involves reliving the same day on repeat, the filmmakers manage to keep the plot fresh by adding new danger, new twists, and new drama. There will likely be some moviegoers who will not enjoy the subtle genre changes from the first film, but I for one think these changes are a brilliant way to breathe new life to the story. It makes me interested to see what could be done with a third film, and Rothe’s performance makes me want to see much more of Tree. This entertaining and emotionally driven genre-bending flick is one you can even watch with your non-horror loving friends and family.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

(I saw the first film, but didn’t ever review it. If I did I would have also given it an 8/10)

Dry Blood

dry blood

Brian is an addict. After a particularly rough night, he decides it’s time to get clean. He travels to his remote mountain cabin in the hopes of detoxing himself in seclusion. Brian’s stay at the cabin forces him to face withdrawals, hallucinations, possible ghosts, and a bizarrely sinister cop. He has to discover what is real and what is fantasy, or else he might just lose his sanity.

Dry Blood is written by Clint Carney and directed by Kelton Jones. While the two have plenty of credits to their name, this is the first feature film in their respective roles as writer and director. The plot woven throughout the film is quite intricate. Every turn seems to add a new layer of mystery and intrigue, forcing the audience to follow different clues. The plot becomes more and more complicated, leading up to the shocking final act. For a first feature film, Jones and Carney deliver a compelling story that takes some brain power to figure out. There is a ton of potential here, but it there is a high likelihood it will leave audiences unclear about certain aspects. There are times when it is obvious that Brian is hallucinating, and other times where he could be seeing ghosts. By the end of the film there is one big reveal that allows the audience to have a sort of “aha” moment. It allows the audience to make certain deductions about what they have witnessed, but there are still too many unanswered questions because of how many layers there are to the mystery.

Brian’s reasoning for going to the cabin in the first place is clear enough, yet things get quite complicated for him almost immediately. It starts with an odd cop who either has sinister motives or is really obsessive about being Brian’s friend. This leads to some conversations that are simultaneously creepy and humorous. There is one schtick that happens in practically every conversation between these two that manages to make me laugh while also being somewhat uncomfortable to watch. Aside from these interactions, the film has a very dark tone in both content and style. The dramatic themes of addiction, mental illness, and death run rampant. It creates a very haunting tale as Brian’s hallucinations (or ghosts) become more prevalent, making his road to recovering more and more difficult.

Not only did Jones direct and Carney write Dry Blood, but they also starred in the film. Carney takes the leading role as Brian, this also being his first acting role in a feature film. For the most part Carney excels in his performance. There are a few more dramatic moments when Brian is particularly terrified and Carney’s portrayal turns a bit towards caricature. Jones also makes his feature film acting debut in this film as the cop. The cop is this ominous presence always looming over Brian, and Jones does a great job playing him. Between his odd behavior and the sometimes comical conversations, the cop is a character audiences will remember. Yet another feature film acting debut comes in the form of Jaymie Valentine as Brian’s friend, Anna. Anna comes to the cabin to try to help Brian get over his addiction. Unfortunately, I found Anna’s character and Valentine’s performance distracting. Valentine comes across as monotone and doesn’t really show any strong emotions, even when her character is in the face of danger. For some reason Anna’s character also wore a disastrous wig. While this is not the actor’s fault and it doesn’t have anything to do with her performance, the wig was so dreadful it took my attention away from the film itself.

Aside from the wig, the various visuals are actually the strongest aspect of the film. There are some fantastic practical effects that really bring terror to the audience. Most of these are used to create what could be hallucinations or they could be ghosts. These entities are created primarily with stunning practical effects, but they are enhanced with some exceptionally well done CGI work. The result is brutal, haunting, and stunning imagery. After finishing the film these effects are what is likely to stand out in your mind.

Jones and Carney create a complex, chilling tale with Dry Blood that shows the filmmakers’ potential, but it falls just short of being truly successful. The film has wonderful special effects, especially for a low-budget indie film, and weaves an interesting plot that will keep you guessing. Unfortunately, the film ends with too many unanswered questions, and the performances deliver a mixture of results from successful to monotone. If nothing else, I would recommend this film for the effects. Either way, the film displays Jones and Carney have the building blocks to create something special as filmmakers and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Lifechanger

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A shapeshifter has the ability to transform into another person, but only at the expense of that person’s life. After existing in different forms for decades, the bodies he takes over are decaying at a much more rapid rate. This shapeshifter’s time is running out. Yet he goes through body after body in an attempt to reconnect with the woman he loves.

Writer and director Justin McConnell (Broken Mile, Collapsed) brings audiences an interesting take on shapeshifters, love, and morality in Lifechanger. There have been films in the past about shapeshifters and things that need to take over the body/life of another human in order to survive. There are aspects of this plot that help to differentiate it from those other films. One way is that the plot is told from the point of view of the shapeshifter, giving us a more empathetic look into the mind and life of this being. The shapeshifter has to kill in order to live, and there is a moral question nagging at the audience as to whether or not he should continue living. Another way this film is different is that the shapeshifting itself isn’t the focus of the story. It does play a very important role, but the film is more about the shapeshifter’s loneliness and desire to be with the one he loves. This plays into the morality issue as well. Is what he does okay because he is doing it for love?

In the third act the film takes a bit of a turn. Without giving too many details, this act changes your perspective of the shapeshifter a bit and makes the audience realize his motives might not be quite what we are lead to believe. I have mixed feelings about how the final moments of this film plays out. Part of me loves it because the end left me with a feeling similar to how the end of The Mist left me. Whether you enjoyed the end of that film or not, you have to admit it packed quite a punch that stuck with you long after the film ended, and Lifechanger ends with a similar impact. It won’t appeal to all viewers, but it is at least thought-provoking. On the other hand, I found the last half of the film, including the final act, almost romanticizes stalking and abusive relationships. I don’t think this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but it stands out in my mind when I think about some of the shapeshifter’s actions throughout the film.

Considering how many different actors played the shapeshifter in Lifechanger, there are a number of great performances in this film. While each actor did a great job as the shapeshifter, the standout performances come from Rachel VanDuzer  in her first feature film and Jack Foley (Fugue). We spend the most time with the shapeshifter in these bodies, and both VanDuzer and Foley portray the character in a way that is a combination of cold, lonely, loving, and frightening. The character is able to take on the memories of its victims when he transforms so the portrayals are meant to be a mix of who the person was and who the shapeshifter is. My one qualm is that I wish there had been some personality trait or tick that made a more obvious connection between all the actors playing the shapeshifter. There is an internal voice the audience hears, the love he feels for a woman, and a marble we see him play with in a few scenes. While those help to connected the different actors, they feel external or separate. Another great performance comes from Lora Burke (Poor Agnes) as the love interest, Julia. Burke portrays Julia in a way that she comes across as broken yet extremely personable. She is someone who could become a best friend overnight. It makes it easy to see why the shapeshifter fell in love with her.

There are many interesting visuals throughout the film. The opening sequence has some gorgeous cinematography. There are many scenes shot beautifully, but the opening stands out the most. The filmmakers opted to use primarily practical effects. This works very well and gives the film a timeless look. The effects themselves are used to create the bodies of the shapeshifter’s victims. They go through a bizarre transformation that is somewhat grotesque, but it is also quite eye-catching. The cinematography and the effects work well together in a way that shows the filmmakers took care to make sure the film had quite a bit of visual interest. They also help set the bleak tone of the film.

Lifechanger is a film that holds nothing back as it takes the audience on an unexpected journey with a shapeshifter. The stunning cinematography and the practical effects help to build the dreary reality of a very unique character. Compelling performances from an array of actors allow the audience to understand the shapeshifter on a more human level with an equally compelling performance from Burke as the love interest. Lifechanger has a fascinating plot with a few rough patches, but the only aspect that truly bothers me is the way stalking is used in the film. An element of the unknown will leave some things unanswered in a way that works well. This is a thought-provoking film that is definitely worth checking out.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10