Writer/director Jacob Leighton Burns delivers an engaging character study of a socially awkward young woman who is self-taught well enough to build a time machine in the science fiction/horror feature Shifter. A microbudget independent feature, the film relies on the lead performance of Nicole Fancher and the story behind her character Theresa Chaney rather than elaborate special effects.
Theresa sacrificed much of her life, including going to university, to take care of her now deceased father on their rural homestead. She is well versed enough in science to create the aforementioned time machine, and after experimenting successfully with her pet cat, she experiments with it herself. The good news is that the time travel works well enough for her to get revenge on a pompous date, but the bad news is that it takes a physical toll on her body that gets worse each time she uses the device.
The time machine and its effects also affect Theresa’s job performance and the potential romantic relationship between her and college librarian Blake (Ashley Mandanas), among other situations. Ashley has a great deal of physical problems to deal with, as well, as multiple versions of herself are now present, and the harm that the time travel does to her becomes increasingly gruesome.
Burns directs deftly, helming scenes of drama, horror, and quirky humor equally skillfully. His story plays out at a relaxed pace, never forcing any issues. His dialogue feels real, and the performances from his cast feel natural, other than a couple of overenthusiastic performances from supporting players. Fancher stands out with her subtly nuanced turn as Theresa. Her quiet, sensitive character is multilayered, and Fancher delivers with a range of understated emotions. The CG effects show their budgetary limitations in some sequences, but Shifter’s positive elements should help most viewers overlook that issue.
Shifter, from The Horror Collective, is available On Demand and Digital from August 6.