The Changeling

The Changeling

First off, this is not the 2008 Angelina Jolie movie (which is Changeling without the The), but a 1979 George C. Scott haunted house movie.

The opening scene depicts the accidental death of Scott’s beloved wife and young daughter, after which Scott, an accomplished composer and music professor, moves across the country to start life over with a faculty position in Seattle, where he rents a very large and very old house that has been unoccupied for many years.

Almost immediately the weird stuff starts, and it’s clear The Changeling will be a haunted house story.

On the positive side, the movie is always at least reasonably well-acted. The story has equal or fewer implausibilities or holes than is typical for the genre. (The specific implausibilities and holes that did bother me a bit would be hard to describe without telling a good portion of the story.) The plot develops in a way that’s at least somewhat interesting to follow, and the payoff—who the ghost is and such—isn’t a big letdown.

But really this film just never did a lot for me. If it’s going to focus on the sleuthing, if it’s going to be an intellectual exercise in finding and interpreting clues, which it largely is, then it would be nice if Scott’s investigation revealed natural explanations of the phenomena. On the other hand, if it’s going to ask us to buy that ghosts are real, and that (some) psychics run legitimate séances and can really communicate with the dead, at least make it entertaining as fantasy by making it truly scary and unnerving, or more emotionally powerful in general.

But it’s neither rational nor scary. (The empty wheelchair chasing a woman down a long flight of stairs is more silly looking than scary.) I never felt much concern for Scott’s welfare, like I was imagining myself in his shoes, the way I could to at least some extent in the French thriller Them that I watched recently.

The Changeling held my interest reasonably well, and I can’t say there were any major disappointments. It’s competent, it’s superficially entertaining as a mystery, it’s fine for what it is, but it isn’t a movie I’d recommend going out of one’s way to see.

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