I sat down with writer-director-producer Justin McConnell (Minutes to Midnight, Broken Mile) recently to discuss his new horror film Lifechanger (review), the unique story of a shape-shifter trying to find his place in the world.
The film’s incredible cast includes Bill Oberst Jr., Lora Burke, Jack Foley, Elitsa Bako, Sam James White, and Steve Kasan.
Warning: There may be spoilers ahead. The following is transcribed from a verbal conversation.
Horror Fuel: “Christmas is coming so it’s the perfect time to talk about your documentary Black Christmas Legacy. Will you tell our readers about it?”
Justin McConnell: “I co-directed that with George Mihalka who did My Bloody Valentine. Anchor Bay Entertainment hired me to shoot a retrospective documentary on the film and I shot all the interviews, edited it and co-directed it with George. We got a number of people who were involved with the production in addition to notable people in the genre. Scream Factory licensed it for U.S. release. I think that was 2015. It’s not necessarily my documentary as something I was hired to do. It’s essentially a bonus feature.”
Horror Fuel: “It’s a great film. You have to love holiday horror.”
Justin McConnell: “Lifechanger is a bit of a Christmas horror film. It takes place during the Christmas season.”
Horror Fuel: “Yeah, I watched it this morning. It’s very creepy, in a good way. It’s kind of a love story too.”
Justin McConnell: “It is. Or you could call it a story of obsession.”
Horror Fuel: “You were also involved with Minutes Past Midnight.”
Justin McConnell: “That was the first of a series of anthology films we launched in 2016. It comes from a short film festival I’ve been running since 2011. It’s called Little Terrors. Basically, in 2011 I started a monthly short film competition for eight months a year. I’ve played about 700 shorts from all over the world. We sat up a deal in 2016 between Indie Cannon Entertainment and Unstable Ground and Uncork’d Entertainment to put together an annual anthology release through Raven Banner. The first one we did was Minutes Past Midnight, a grab bag of horror, short films that weren’t online free with a million views, films that could help get exposure for the filmmakers and make them a little bit of money, they get part of the sales. The first anthology was Minutes to Midnight in 2016. In 2017 we released the sci-fi horror Galexy of Horrors. Last month we released an action horror anthology called Blood, Sweat, and Terrors. Every year we release one. It’s a compilation of hand-picked shorts. It’s the only one that we shot a wrap around for which I directed. We’ve noticed about wraparounds that people don’t really care about for the shorts, but some complain that they’re anthologies without connecting threads. It’s like the home version of the Little Terrors Festival. ”
Horror Fuel: “Lifechanger is getting ready to come out. How did it come to be?”
Justin McConnell: “It’s a personal film for me. It was written during a rather depressive or retrospective point in my life. I was trying to figure out what I could make with a very low budget after not getting some larger films made, the film Eternal and another one.
While I was writing I was on a bus and the idea struck me ‘What if I saw myself out in public?’ Which is, of course, Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy. That idea grew and a couple of years ago I lost my best friend of over a decade. He had died and I had been going through a couple of years of soul searching and thinking about my place in life, my past, how I was in relationships, deep in self-examination. That formed the tone of what the film became. I wrote the first draft at the end of 2014. By the time we made it to camera in 2017, there had been multiple drafts. It just grew from there.
I’m a huge horror fan and I wanted to make a horror film. It has a huge heart and it has existentialism and all that. It’s still a horror film at its core. It has moments where the audience is either on their seats or they’ll see a great gore gag, or whatever it is while maintaining that heart. It’s a relationship drama that just happens to be a horror film.
Horror Fuel: “I love the ending. It’s a great twist. I like that there’s no clear winner.”
Justin McConnell: “There’s a winner, but not really. He’s lived his entire life not being himself, now he’s an old man and could potentially die soon. His punishment is that he never really got to live a life. He lived many others’ lives and caused a lot of damage, now he’s left with guilt. I think of him kind of like a Nazi war criminal. You never know who you’re sitting next to on a bench. I’m sure they experience a lot of guilt, at least I hope they do. That’s what the ending means to me. He made assumptions and that caused a lot of damage. He had no one to guide him.”
Horror Fuel: “If you think about it, he’s getting the ultimate punishment.”
Justin McConnell: “She still in his head. There’s a reason he carries a laptop with him. It’s the book she’ll never finish. It’s like holding on to that one last piece of her.”
Horror Fuel: “When is your next film festival?
Justin McConnell: “We have several in January, but we are nearing the end of the festival run, which is the busiest part of the festival run.”
Horror Fuel: “I really enjoyed Lifechanger. It’s unique which hard to find these days.”
Justin McConnell: “I would say that people play it safe a lot in the horror genre. I’m not saying that to take away from any other films because I am an avid horror fan. I like movies that ride the line, but they’re giving you a really good experience. I find that there is less of an inclination to take a risk to tell an original story because it will sell. I feel like Lifechanger is one that takes a risk. Whether that’s good or bad, I ‘ll leave that up to the individual viewer. I do think it’s something different.”
Horror Fuel: “I think it’s unique and I think our readers will like it. It has a good story, it has horror, gore, drama, a little bit of everything. What’s next for you?”
Justin McConnell: “We’ve got a lot coming up. We’re shooting two more horror films this Spring, Mark of Kane based on the novel Kane by Douglas Borton, and Do You See What I See co-directed by Serina Whitney and myself. It’s a holiday horror film. I’ve also got a documentary series called Clapboard Jungle coming up next year.
I’d also like to say that if someone didn’t enjoy my work in the past for whatever reason, keep giving the stuff we create a chance. I believe in creating varieties. If you don’t like one thing, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not going to like another. Go in with an open mind and hopefully you’ll be surprised.”
Lifechanger opens in theaters on December 28th (in Canada) and on VOD in the US on January 1st from Uncork’d Entertainment and Raven Banner.
Be sure to follow Justin McConnell on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for updates on his projects and more. Visit his website for more on his film Lifechanger and others.