Review by Sean Boelman
Time travel is notoriously difficult to pull off in film, but if done properly, it can offer some really intriguing science fiction, including some examples that have since become iconic. Jacob Burns’s new lo-fi thriller Shifter may not live up to the classic movies from which it draws inspiration, but it’s a fun watch nevertheless.
The film follows a woman as she struggles with the painful and unexpected side effects of a time travel experiment that did not go according to plan. In a way, the movie shares more in common with the body horror genre than the usually more whimsical and adventurous nature of most time travel flicks.
It takes a bit of time for the film to get moving, the first thirty minutes or so being used to develop the protagonist and creating that emotional foundation for the audience to be able to feel the terror and dread that the protagonist is experiencing. It’s never a particularly scary movie, but it is quite unsettling as a whole.
Burns obviously didn’t have a particularly large budget to work with as he made this film, but he made the most out of his limited resources to deliver a movie with great atmosphere and even a few moments with surprisingly creepy imagery. At times, the visual effects look a bit cartoonish, but the portions of the film that are reliant on this underwhelming CGI are few in number.
The message here about the consequences of one’s actions is pretty obvious, and is admittedly predictable given the fact that this is the theme central to most time travel flicks. Some of the ideas that Burns brings to the table about exploitation are interesting but underdeveloped, more of an afterthought than a concern.
One of the more interesting decisions made with the movie is that it doesn’t spend any time explaining the mechanics of the time travel device, focusing instead on its reverberations. The film mentions quantum physics, but never tries to give itself a legitimate and detailed scientific underpinning, eliminating much of the confusion and disbelief associated with the genre.
Leaning the movie so heavily on the performance of lead actress Nicole Fancher was quite the risk, but for the most part, she holds the film quite well. Apart from multiple hard-to-explain scenes in which she talks to her cat in a ridiculously annoying voice, she’s very charming and brings a lot of emotion to the role.
Shifter blends body horror with the familiar tropes of time travel sci-fi, and it does so in an interesting way. At less than ninety minutes, this is a lean little chiller that would be great for some weekend entertainment.
Shifter hits VOD on August 6.