Directors: Miranda Harcourt & Stuart McKenzie
Margaret Mahy’s classic YA novel – a supernatural romance – gets a contemporary update here in the near-dystopia of post-earthquake Christchurch. The film’s setting hasn’t changed. But boy has it changed! The earthquake a metaphor for the broken family, the broken dreams – sixteen year old Laura Chant (played with mesmeric poise by newcomer Erana James) has to look after her younger brother because her mum (Melanie Lynskey) works all hours just to make ends meet. The liquefaction that sits around the footsteps, captured in moody blues and greys, feels post-apocalyptic. There’s a creepiness that pervades from the opening scenes.
The casting of Timothy Spall could be the film’s masterstroke – but that would be to undersell every other performance on screen, the script, the shots, the direction. For The Changeover feels almost instantly like a modern masterpiece. But certainly Spall is intriguing, creepy, wonderful, frightening as the charming but odd Carmody Braque.
He entices the children in to his container where magic spells are cast, where trinkets hold stories from other worlds. He places a stamp on the young Jackco Chant’s hand and when it can’t be removed Laura has to find an answer.
But against this set-up there are so many elements playing out – beautiful, entitled, strong-willed teens. A subtly powerful musical score – choice song selections (Bic Runga’s Sway, Fazerdaze’s Lucky Girl) and always this mood of creepiness. A profound feeling of stoicism and the need for it.
On paper The Changeover isn’t aimed at me, I’m not its target market. But also I am, andfor important reasons: I’m a filmgoer. I’m a lover of visceral movie experiences. I’m also a fan of Mahy’s original story. And that is served well here – it’s honoured, protected, updated in a caring and correct way.
But if there’s one reason to see The Changeover it is for the scenes between Timothy Spall and Erana James. For in there, deep inside those moments, we find another potent type of magic – a new star on the rise and an established acting great, the chemistry between them, the spell of what they conjure, of who they are and how they act together…well, in some sense, there’s all the movie you need right there.