Everything from The Thing to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and even Heaven Can Wait influenced filmmaker Justin McConnell’s libretto for “The Lifechanger.”
-PH: Lifechanger. Is this the long-awaited sequel to Marry Poppins?
-Justin: I’m not sure I get the reference. I’m going to be honest in saying that beyond little clips over the year, or seeing part of it on The Wonderful World of Disney when I was a kid, I didn’t actually see all of Mary Poppins. Or I’ve blocked it out.
-PH: Because Mary Poppins changes… lives. You see. Ha! What’s the general storyline? What was the pitch that sold your investors?
-Justin: I went in with the easy logline “It’s American Psycho through the perspective of The Thing” and then the basic “A murderous shape-shifter sets out on a mission to make things right with the woman he loves”. But you can’t really get much traction with just a logline these days, so I had it backed up with an 80 page visual lookbook and a pitch package.
-PH: And did those money-men ask for certain ingredients to be mixed into the movie?
-Justin: Not really, no. We had pretty much total control over the script, but those elements were already in the script. When it came to post our sales agents suggested we speed up the first act a little bit to get to one of our big effects earlier, for the sake of selling to the interntational market. An idea I was receptive to, as I trust their judgement and I believe it actually did improve the film. It starts like a rocket, and probably has helped our traction a lot. I’ve bluntly been told that by festival programmers, buyers, critics and audience members. Of course, there are also those that think the film moves too fast, but it kinda had to be one or the other, and slow-burn does not play well with the modern audience, as much as I prefer it with certain films. I personally think we found the right balance, but that’s for the audience to decide. You really can’t please everybody. You put ten people into a room and show them a film, and you’ll get ten different opinions.
-PH: What about names? Were they happy for you to cast who you wanted?
-Justin: We didn’t have budget for ‘names’, and they knew it going in, so we didn’t really have any issue with that. We just needed the best performers we could afford out of the non-union people available to us, so we held an open casting, which all partners could give their opinions on. But ultimately I’m happy with the cast we ended up with. The inner voice was one area where we did have a little extra to get a ‘name’, and we did go out looking. We went to Tom Waits, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Burt Reynolds, Michael Rooker and Lance Henriksen. Lance actually agreed to do it (which is why he’s in the special thanks), and Rooker said he’d entertain the idea, but we were blocked from using either by SAG. So it was very lucky that we were able to use Bill Oberst Jr., and now that he’s done it, I honestly couldn’t see anyone else in that role. He knocked it out of the park, in my opinion.
-PH: How would you describe the tone?
Justin: Melancholy. Reflective. Existential. There’s definitely humor in the film, and fast paced moments, and gore, transformation effects, and the like. But it’s a pretty sad movie at the heart. About a lost soul just trying to have something more in life, while not realizing how much damage he’s causing to the world around him in the pursuit.
-PH: Is the film inspired by any horror flicks you loved growing up?
-Justin: Everything someone makes is influenced and inspired by their past experiences and the films they grew up watching, to some extent. Or the books they grew up with. So there’s definitely the DNA of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, The Hidden, The First Power, The Borrower, Fallen, and even Heaven Can Wait in the film. Probably a lot more. But nothing was intended as a direct homage. It all just kind of came organically from whatever all those films did to my sub-conscious over the years.
-PH: As a horror film, how scary is Lifechanger on a scale of 1 to 11?
-Justin: Horror to me is an umbrella of a ton of sub-genres, and not all horror films have to be scary to be considered horror. I don’t personally consider ‘Lifechanger’ to be scary. It’s unsettling, and disturbing, and suspenseful. But scary, as in things that go bump in the night, or jump scares, or tension like that, it really isn’t. It’s difficult to be scared when the entire film is from the direct perspective of the monster, and the monster isn’t just a monster. The Universal Monsters weren’t really scary, but they were definitely horror films. So like a 4, if you’re talking scary. But it’s more than that.
THE LIFECHANGER releases January 1 on VOD.