John Russell (George C. Scott) moves to Seattle to try and put his life back together after witnessing the death of his wife and daughter in a horrific car accident. He buys an old historical mansion, where he tries to get back to his work as a classical composer. A local historian Claire Norman played by Trish Van Devere, tries to help him through the tormenting visions of his wife and daughter’s death.
He spends most of his time at the mansion composing music until someone tries to communicate with him from beyond the grave.
Opening scene, an idyllic winter wonderland landscape greets us. Echoed laughter as we see John Russell and his family pushing their broken down family car up the road towards a pay phone. John Russell leaves his family by the side of the road to make a call. Further down the road, a large truck is spinning out of control. John is about to dial when he sees it coming for his family. Helplessly he witnesses the truck killing them both.
He moves to Seattle, where he meets Claire Norman a local historian, with her help he moves into an old mansion and begins to teach classical music to university students. His nights are spent tormented by the visions of his wife and daughter until strange events begin to occur in the mansion. Voices, slamming doors and horrifying sounds leads him to the discovery of a secret room.
This is not a typical haunted house movie with blood and guts thrown in for good measure. It is very subtle horror, were you might just enjoy the comfortable pace of the movie and suddenly you’ll have goosebumps on your arm without a direct visual stimulus. George C. Scott’s delicate portrait of the grieving widower is understated. He is not a typical hauntedhousecharacter running for cover with the cliche facial expressions of terror. He seems to find the experiences intriguing and almost helping him come to terms with his loss.
As he discovers new artifacts in the mansion he comes closer and closer to healing. The present history of the old mansion takes a turn and goes from intimidating to dissolving into the ground, destroying itself to hide its horrific story forever. It is quite refreshing to finally see a ghost story, where the main character is tough and determined to fight till the end to discover the truth.
As the story evolves, it turns into a crime mystery rather then a haunted house and the main plot is to figure out who was sent to an early death and why. The story soon involves the local historians, US senator and something unspeakable in the pursuit of greed and happiness.
Peter Medak, the director, has made The Changeling as a internal journey of George C. Scott’s grief and visions. Medak and the cinematographer are not afraid to let the camera stay still in one composition for a long period without feeling the need to cut to the next scene. By this they devolve more into the mansion’s character. The use of a steadicam shot in the séance scene helps the audience to ‘access’ the true sense of horror. To‘describe’ it would be to destroy the true terror of it; it needs to be experienced, hence the composition. The Changeling is based on events experienced by the writer, playwright and composer Russell Ellis Hunter, while he lived in Henry Treat Rogers Mansion of Denver, Colorado. The story of The Changeling was set in US but main part of the production was in Canada with Canadian production company. The film won the first Genie Award for Best Canadian Film.
Make sure you don’t watch this film, as yours truly did, with his wife just after moving into a 100 year old house in the middle of a forest in Norway. It kind of makes it that much morereal, but hey, if you really want to have a great movie experience it just might be the thing...