- George C. Scott as John Russell
- Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman
- Melvyn Douglas as Senator Joseph Carmichael
A very spooky and understated haunted house horror, The Changeling boasts a genuine suspense and mystery to it, which stand it in extremely good stead. It’s a shining example of the less is more approach that favours atmosphere and twists instead of bloody carnage.
John Russell is a music composer who is one day being helped by his wife and daughter as their car has broken down in the snows of Upstate New York. Yet tragedy strikes when they are both killed in a freak collision between a snow plow and a van. Broken by this, John gets out-of-town and takes a job teaching music to university students. Grief-stricken by his loss, he tries to find somewhere to live in the hope that it will help him get to grips with life alone. Thanks to friends, he discovers a large unoccupied house that he believes will give him peace and time to reflect as well as heal. But while coming to terms with the tragic loss of his wife and daughter, John finds himself plagued by strange things in the house. A loud, repetitive banging sound occurs at the same time for a number of days at the exact same time. This particular incident leads a suspicious John to a secret room, that has been hidden away behind large planks of wood and locked. Most creepy of all is the image he catches of what appears to be a young boy drowning in the bath. At first, John isn’t sure about what to make of these unexplained events as he has no way of piecing anything he finds in the room together( which include an old-fashioned children’s wheelchair and a music box that eerily has the same tune he has been composing) with the strange phenomena of the vision he saw. Yet they continue to occur and John is tried by what he experiences, and he can’t rely deny what is happening right before his very eyes. Bewildered and shocked by these things that he finds to be trying to get his attention in one way or another, he dives into the past of the house with the friendly support of Claire Norman, who helped sell him the house and is a member of a historically related society. Stumbling blocks in the form of missing records and misdirection only add more to the mystery and the obstacles it poses. A séance is conducted that helps reveal something about the presence and the tragic clues as to why it haunts the house. The events have a large impact on John, who slowly discovers a will inside him to bring out the truth before it is too late. It’s a matter of proving the existence of the spirit to anyone that it will impact that is going to be the problem. John takes it upon himself to uncover what lies at the bottom of the haunting and the repercussions it continues to have, with a forceful approach that stirs up trouble for those in relation to the horror of the past.
The Changeling is a film that is driven by an eeriness and a simplicity that enables the spooky goings on to gradual reveal themselves through a measured but never lagging pace. The method of getting jolts of terror from sound and doubt are effortlessly employed , but never in a way that gets overly styled or distracting. While some unusual angles are employed, the direction from Peter Medak is wisely kept to an understated a and marvellously constructed level. For me, the attention to the story and how the ghostly haunting linked where the real hooks and the work from compliments them stunningly. The Changeling is just as much a mystery as it is a ghostly horror, a significant attribute that Medak wields with flair and just the right amount of content( the séance scene is a highlight of unnerving tension and revelations) to keep it ticking over. I found the matters surrounding the haunting very entertaining and spine-chilling as it gave another sheen to the film that went places I was not anticipating it to visit. It really pulls you right into the enigma of the house and what transpired there, with a suitably gloomy visual palette to highlight both the spooky aspects and the mourning heart of John going through his own pain. Take for example the scene of John finding his daughter’s bouncing ball which he knew he got rid of, only to have it repeatedly fall down the stairs towards him on a loop. It’s a simple yet haunting indication of John’s link with the presence as it reaches out to him and how he can’t ignore what he has seen. The lugubrious and spine tingling score( complete with ghostly cries and slithering strings) aids the personal journey John goes on in battling his own grief, while bringing justice to someone from the other side who isn’t at peace.
On the acting front and definitely strong is George C. Scott in a nuanced turn. He plays the man attempting to hold his grief inside and deal with it in some way impressively, as well as showcasing the growing feeling of unease in regards to the house. Scott is a professional who makes the role look effortless and the building feeling of determination that his character attains in trying to uncover the reasons for the haunting are pretty amazing, as well as wholly believable. Trish Van Devere( who was actually married to Scott in real life) is nicely curious and helpful as the concerned Claire, the two working well together in a natural way that isn’t surprising considering their off set relationship. Rounding out the main cast is Melvyn Douglas a powerful Senator who somehow fits into the scheme of things regarding the past of the house. Douglas wonderfully makes the most of the part by displaying a worry and slowly unraveling fragility.
A smartly old school horror that knows the best way to chill the blood is by making things creepy and gradual, The Changeling is for me an underrated horror gem that deserves a hell of a lorn of credit for what it teases out.