Changeling, The

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 03/17/04 13:16:48

"Wheelchairs are frickin' SCARY, man!"
5 stars (Awesome)

I was talking to a friend on the instant messenger tonight, and we got on the topic of horror movies. When she tossed out THE CHANGELING as one of her favorites, I did a double-take. She's probably the first person I've known under the age of thirty whose ever even heard of this film (besides an ex-girlfriend, who I forced to watch it, and who fell asleep on me halfway through it. Chicks, man!)

A skillfully-made ghost story with an excellent cast (Led by the impeccable George C. Scott), this is one of my all-time favorites. Occasionally, it even works its way into those "Top Ten Scariest Movies of All Time" lists that film critics like to put out every Halloween. Though many horror films from the decade may seem painfully dated now, The Changeling holds up just fine today - provided one has the patience and imagination for a richly-detailed and meticulously paced ghost story.

When John Russell (George C. Scott) loses his family in a roadside accident, he becomes despondent and moves out of the apartment they once shared. He takes a job as a music professor in another city, and manages to rent a massive (and creepy-looking) house due to his connection with a friend (Trish Van Devere) who works at the local historical society. Before he can even settle in, things begin to go bump in the night. The more he investigates the source of the strange banging sounds coming from upstairs, the more secrets he discovers about the house and the influential family that once lived there.

I know what you're thinking - "Yeah, yeah, it sounds like every other ghost story made in the past 50 years." True, the premise is not terribly new or original, but the film rises above convention with some fantastic acting (did you ever see George C. Scott give a performance you didn't like?) and a careful layering of supernatural rumblings and clue-gathering that makes for a compelling two hours. The film sucks you in, layer by layer and scene by scene, until the ghostly presence fully manifests itself (in the form of an empty, self-propelled wheelchair) in some of the creepiest scenes of all time. After watching this, you'll never look at an empty wheelchair the same way again. There's also a seance scene that made the back of my neck crawl.

If there is any fault to be found, it would probably lay with the occasionally stilted or over-expository dialogue. There is also an inherent weakness, in that so many elements of this story have been done before. It could have quickly sunk into the morass of cliche', were it not for some excellent filmmaking and the usual powerhouse performance from Scott.

THE CHANGELING is proof that they just don't make them like this anymore. Along with films like THE SHINING and THE OTHERS, this is one of the best haunted house movies made in the past quarter-century.

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