Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Changeling

It’s admittedly kind of a toss-up as to whether this qualifies as a ghost movie or a haunted house movie, but I’ve always counted it as a haunted house film just for the fact that a) the ghost is possessing the house, rather than just appearing by himself a lot, and b) were it not for this film, I would have been much harder pressed to name a single haunted house movie I unreservedly liked (the only other I can name is The Legend of Hell House, and I only saw that for the first time last year).

The film opens with George C. Scott watching in horror as his wife and daughter are killed by a truck that skids in the snow. Trying to pick up the pieces of his life, he moves into an old mansion, where he swiftly realizes that things are Not Right. Here’s where the film really stands out among other haunted house stories, because unlike the standard two responses to creepy things happening in the old house, where the main characters either try to pretend nothing is happening, or see something fairly minor and just immediately flip the fuck out and go completely crazy, Scott gives a great understated performance in acknowledging that something clearly supernatural is happening, but it’s not that big a deal. Presumably due to how his world has already been destroyed in the opening scene, he doesn’t bemoan his fate at having done such a bad job picking a new home, but instead decides that helping the young boy whose spirit lives on in the house might help him move on from the deaths of his own family.

It’s a nicely understated, fairly intelligent film, that manages to throw in some good visual style as well. One visual, in fact, was apparently so good, that of him going through the floorboards to search for the boy’s body in an old well under the house, that it was so totally ripped off for The Ring (I don’t care if this isn’t that famous a movie, Hideo Nakata must have seen it). Lest you think it ends with a whimper, have no fear: director Peter Medak made sure to fill the ending with fire and pain and the death of someone who wasn’t really much of a guilty party, just to ensure that everyone goes home somewhat uncomfortable and uncertain.

Rating: *** ½

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