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Friday, October 2, 2020

Review: The Changeling

Director: Peter Medak

Screenplay: Russell Hunter, William Gray, and Diana Maddox

Year: 1980

After losing his wife and daughter in a horrible accident, composer John Russell moves to an old Victorian house in Seattle. Shortly after moving into the house, John starts feeling things that lead him to believe that a spirit inhabits the house. Searching for the spirit’s identity, he discovers the atrocious crime that took place in the house. 

Comparing “The Changeling” with “The Descent” might seem crazy at first glance, but the opening scene in both is very similar and is what puts in perspective the style of the director as the basis for the choices that its main character makes. In “The Changeling”, we see how John’s wife and daughter are run over by a truck, while John witnesses the event, unable to do anything to stop it. While in “The Descent” a similar scene is used to establish the dark and raw style of the movie, in “The Changeling” it creates an emotional atmospheric style. 

Not much time has to go by since John moves into the house so that paranormal events start taking place. Some of these events are directed to John’s emotional side after losing his family, a feature of this character that contrasts with the masculinity that George C. Scott (“Firestarter”) projects in his superb acting, something that director Peter Medak (“Species II”) makes the most of. Because of the association he feels with the paranormal events, the composer starts investigating the entity that manifests in the house and its purpose for doing so.

“The Changeling” can easily be divided into two parts, one that is a mystery to be solved concerning an awful murder, and the other the story of a vengeful ghost. In the part of the mystery to be solved, the movie feels like one of crime and detective, and how writers Russell Hunter, William Gray (“RoboCop”), and Diana Maddox (“The Amateur”) develop the story makes it intriguing. Something that stands out from the entity that inhabits the house is that it has no religious links, something that was common in this sort of movies during the '70s and '80s, like for example “The Amityville Horror”, “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist”. It also stands out that it always considers the entity’s childish personality in how it manifests, which is important for the plot.

Although it didn't receive the recognition it deserves in its time, "The Changeling" has turned into a classic through time and has served as an inspiration to many other modern horror movies. For example, the mythical seanse has been replicated in films such as "The Others" and "Insidious", and the topic of the vengeful ghost gave way to movies in this genre such as "Ringu" and "Ju-On", as well as their American versions. At the same time, since so much of this movie has been imitated, it has lost its mistic, as the tricks that 40 years ago were groundbreaking have been used until obsolescence.

“The Changeling” has lost some of its scare factor because of the time that has gone by since its release and the number of movies it has influenced and that have used its tricks to where they aren’t effective anymore. Even though 40 years after its release, it remains one of the best haunted house movies around, and by thinking back to when it was released, it stands out for its innovative ideas, great acting, and intense and impressive sound design.

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