Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Fancher makes an excellent lead, giving us a character who has always been slightly adrift from her surroundings, literally offbeat."

Invention is a tricky thing. It's common for several people to come up with the same novel idea around the same time, as other ideas circulating in their field nudge them in the same direction. And for every celebrated genius who comes to public attention, there are likely a hundred who die in obscurity, their ideas never given form because of their limited means - or simply forgotten. Theresa (Nicole Fancher) may have intermittent access to university facilities but she has only her own money to draw on as she tinkers away in the garage using whatever scraps she can find. She's building a time machine.

Made under similar budgetary constraints, Jacob Leighton Burns' drama is an appealing character study but, sadly, has less to offer as a piece of science fiction. There's an interesting idea here - that to travel in time is to cease to be anchored to a particular patch of spacetime, to become unstable, and that thereafter different parts of oneself may slip around in time independently of one another - which owes something to Alan Moore's Watchmen (there's even a similar manifestation scene) but takes its own direction. Ironically, it lacks a narrative anchor of its own, gradually dissipating over the 85 minute running time until, when the audience should be feeling melancholy about what has been lost, the necessary emotional connection has already been lost.

Copy picture

Fancher makes an excellent lead, giving us a character who has always been slightly adrift from her surroundings, literally offbeat. She's an engineering nerd and a loner by inclination, contenting herself with the company of ginger cat Bernard (Cleopatra the Babycat) until his participation in her experiments makes his affection - and his body - less consistent. It's almost unfortunate that she's also pretty, since this makes it impossible for her to enjoy the solace of a quiet drink in her local bar without harassment. It has been a long time since she has felt able to pay attention to anything outside her work, but she does have romantic longings. The trouble is that even when she does find the right person, her condition makes things complicated.

One gets the impression that there are ideas here which just didn't come together in the execution. A striking visual effect communicating the damage done by time travel looks good when applied to a small area in a static frame but becomes problematic when applied more liberally. Some of the related model work is good, and suitably eerie, but the disconnect between the two depletes its effectiveness.

The biggest problem here, however, is the lack of a coherent story. The threads of the plot don't come together in an adequate way and the narrative makes excuses for this rather than tackling the problem at its source. The result is a series of beautifully acted sketches linked together by a messy and unsatisfying story. Shifter is full of promise but amounts to less than the sum of its parts.

Reviewed on: 25 Sep 2020
Share this with others on...
Shifter packshot
A young woman experiences painful and gruesome side effects after an experiment with time travel goes wrong.

Director: Jacob Leighton Burns

Writer: Jacob Leighton Burns

Starring: Nicole Fancher, Ashley Mandanas, Jamie Brewster, Paul T Taylor, Cleopatra the Babycat

Year: 2020

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


Search database: