The Changeover has been my favourite novel since I was 15, I’ve read it five times (as a dedicated “once only” reader of fiction, this is a very high number for me) and I’ve written before about what a wonderful gift that book was, and continues to be.
How much stress a book-fan suffers when they hear their favourite novel is to be made into a movie is really a matter of personal inclination, but let’s just say you’re the sort of person who has a ranked list of the alternate cover art of said book based on which ones you hate the most because they’re not the first edition cover, the one you first read from, i.e. The Proper One. If such a lunatic were to exist *shifty sideways look* then that person might be a rather difficult one to win over when it comes to appreciating the resultant film.
Of course, inviting them to the world premiere of said film so that they can make excited faces like this…
— Moata Tamaira (@MoataTamaira) September 25, 2017
… might be helpful.
But it won’t matter a damn if the film is terrible. Fortunately, The Changeover isn’t. It’s a moody, stylish, achingly beautiful yet creepy tale of magic, love and loss. The acting is superb, Timothy Spall oozing menace with every sharkish smile, the setting evocative, and the story a classic “hero’s journey” that precious few female characters ever go on in films.
It’s a very affecting film, or at least I was affected by it but that’s for several reasons, some of which are due to my own emotional attachments.
Only a few moments in I was already in danger of crying (I stoically kept a lid on, er, my lids because MASCARA and being seated one empty seat away from a former Mayor). All the feelings were in a large part due to Christchurch.
This film is the cinematic equivalent of a really good photographer, expert in intimate portraiture, taking a photograph of your Nana that shows every deep crevasse, wrinkle and imperfection on her face. And you realise, in looking at the picture, that she’s much older than you imagined, that though you see her every day you never really properly look at her… and that she’s beautiful.
That’s how this film made me feel about Christchurch. So that’s in the first 30 seconds or so and through the whole thing.
A drone shot of a motor scooter travelling through a broken landscape over a thumping, atmospheric soundtrack evokes the moody spookiness of the first season of True Detective. Everything is beautifully lit, and waterlogged and gorgeously broken down.
And then there’s Jacko, a child that looks eerily like my 3 year old and who is placed in quite a bit of peril in this film. I got all the Mummy Feels about that and I’m not ashamed to say so.
The Changeover is very much not a faithful adaptation of the novel. Mind you, films rarely are, so that’s to be expected. So if you love the book, you might be disappointed at some of the things that get left out.
Like Laura’s mother Kate having a love interest. Mum characters don’t have to be frumps, but this is the frumpiest I’ve seen Melanie Lynskey since her last Christchurch film. I think Margaret Mahy, as a single mother herself, understood that and deliberately portrayed a mother with a life beyond her children, and yes, a sex drive. It saddens me a bit to have lost this part of the story, though I don’t expect the teens who watch this movie will miss it. Middle-aged hook-ups were probably not the kind of horror they were hoping for.
The loss of Sorry’s troubling backstory makes his character a lot less compelling (though he’s a damn sight more attractive, which is a nice trick), and so the blossoming teen romance of the story loses a bit of its conviction too.
But some changes are welcome.
What we lose in Sorry we gain in Carmody Braque who gets much more to do in the movie than he does in the book, which Timothy Spall makes the most of. He’s a constant threat rather than one that commits evil and then slinks back under a rock until it’s time to confront him.
The plot veers off in unexpected directions midway, which was disorienting but in a good “oh, I don’t know what’s going to happen next” way that I enjoyed though I didn’t necessarily expect to.
And the opening scene in which Laura and her friends “break in” to a fenced off playground in the Red Zone perfectly captures that point in teenhood when earlier youthful entertainments no longer satisfy even while there’s simultaneously a desire to somehow go backward and climb the fence back into childhood.
So it’s a very good film and one which, if you can put aside your desire for it to be exactly like the book, offers some really terrific performances and an altered, contemporary take on a much beloved story.
If you want to know what one of the co-directors has to say about all this, you can read my interview with Stuart McKenzie at The Spinoff.