Changeling, The (1980)

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

Synopsis:
A recently widowed composer (George C. Scott) moves into a house haunted by the ghost of an unhappy child, whose tragic death is somehow linked to that of an aging senator (Melvyn Douglas).

Genres:

Review:
This atmospheric haunted house flick by director Peter Medak is based on a genuinely disturbing premise (don’t read too much about it online if you want to remain surprised), but is poorly paced and takes far too long to build momentum. In addition, Medak relies too heavily on both wide-angle and low-angle shots — the latter presumably to make us feel we’re consistently viewing the action from the perspective of a (buried?) child, but it quickly feels derivative and overly stylized. Scott is typically fine (if perhaps a tad too stalwart) in the lead role, and his real-life wife (Trish Van Devere) registers an appropriate level of mounting trepidation as Scott’s realtor and amateur-sleuthing-partner (though their relationship remains frustratingly opaque). Ultimately, this one is really only must-see for fans of the genre, who will likely enjoy the intermittent chills and thrills it provides. Best scene: the genuinely freaky seance, which suddenly and effectively shifts the film into high gear.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some moments of genuinely creepy terror

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for fans of the genre, though others may be curious to at least check it out. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Changeling, The (1980)”

  1. Not a must.

    ‘The Changeling’ is, indeed, a very disappointing film overall. It tries way too hard. It also takes way too long in getting where it wants to go – the implication being that the payoff is going to be so incredible that the reveal is worth the build-up. Yes, the root of the premise is a strong one, and the ‘secret’ is worthy of drama. But the script overcompensates for a plot-line that ultimately is not complex enough (or is not allowed to be complex enough) to benefit from the additional trappings the film is laced with.

    Medak is a more-than-competent director usually (and has revealed some of his best work in ‘The Ruling Class’, ‘The Krays’ and ‘Romeo is Bleeding’). But, here, he (like the script) also seems to want to make-up for the fact that the piece he’s saddled with is too thin – so he zeroes in on atmosphere. Still, there’s only so much he can do.

    This is a film that requires you to suspend quite a bit of disbelief (i.e., it’s particularly strange that a ghost tale of revenge should, somewhere along the line, introduce satanic elements). On the one hand, it’s effective enough for those who enjoy totally buying into the idea of a presence in a house. On the other hand, it also flirts with being unintentionally funny.

    Agreed: by far, the film’s highlight is the seance (esp. with its depiction of automatic writing on the part of the psychic). This scene is so strong that one wishes it were in a whole other and better film.

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