Friday, March 8, 2019

Movie Review: The Changeover

The Changeover *** ½ / *****
Written by: Stuart McKenzie based on the novel by Margaret Mahy.
Starring: Timothy Spall (Carmody Braque), Melanie Lynskey (Kate Chant), Lucy Lawless (Miryam Carlisle), Nicholas Galitzine (Sorensen Carlisle), Erana James (Laura Chant), Kate Harcourt (Winter Carlisle), Benji Purchase (Jacko Chant), Ella Edward (Nicky Green), Thomasin McKenzie (Rose Keaton).
The Changeover is an interesting genre film that feels perhaps like it missed its moment – had it come out at the height of the Twilight phenomenon, it would have made for a very interesting companion piece and corrective to those films. It is based on a book, which is a few decades too old to be classified as Young Adult, but that’s precisely what it is. The film is a coming of age story about a young woman, and yes, there is a supernatural, otherworldly hot guy in her class – and she is drawn to him – but ultimately, the teenage heroine of the movie has to do things for herself. It is about her coming to harness her own power – and really trust in herself. It’s certainly a better movie than any of the Twilight films – and nowhere near as many people will ever see it.
This is a fairly low-budget, New Zealand project – which won’t help it win any viewers – but also doesn’t hurt the movie at all. There are supernatural elements to the film, but not the kind that require any sort of special effects budget – and the cinematography and sound design do a lot of the heavy lifting here in establishing mood. This is a quiet film in many ways, and one that is more unnerving than anything else.
The story is about Laura (Erana James), a teenage girl being raised by a single mom (Melanie Lynskey) – who has to spend much of her free kind watching her little brother Jacko (Benji Purchase). The story is about how Laura needs to save Jacko from Carmody Braque (Timothy Spall) – who, well, he’s something. When you first meet him, you aren’t quite sure what kind of creep he is – or even if he is a creep. Laura certainly doesn’t trust him, but she isn’t sure she can trust her own instincts (something she will have to learn to do). But there is something supernatural about him – and she senses that, because there’s something supernatural about her as well – as we can tell when she is drawn to Sorensen Carlisle (Nicholas Galitzine) – that hot, but somewhat creepy guy, from high school. He comes from a family – his mother (Lucy Lawless) and grandmother (Kate Harcourt) – who will become important later, as they help Laura get in touch with whatever it is inside of herself that she can tap into to save Jacko.
I don’t really want to spoil the exact nature of the powers anyone in the film has – it’s kind of fun to see Laura come to grips with what she is, and then figure out what she can do. It’s even more refreshing that this is a film that can tap into those powers without the film devolving into more CGI soup – that most genre films end up as. The film is part romance, part horror, part fantasy – but it’s low-key in all three. The romance part is the least convincing – it’s hard to argue that the strictures of YA novels requiring a love interest hurt the film, since the book it is based on came out before YA novels were a thing, but that is what it feels like. There is never any real believable connection between Laura and Sorensen – and filmmakers Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie don’t really seem all that interested in developing that any further anyway.
But otherwise, The Changeover is an effective little film. It’s the type of film I wish more teenage girls would see instead of junk like Twilight – or whatever it is now – as it is really about Laura learning to trust herself, trust her inner voice, trust in her own powers – and that is far more of a powerful, and empowering message, than anything those other films have to say.

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