The Changeling (1980)

Viewed February 1st

A composer haunted by the death of his wife and child moves to Seattle and learns that the house he's moved into holds dark secrets.

By 1980 the haunted house genre needed a new vision in order to give audiences any real scares or be taken seriously at all. The way two films from that particular year explored this problem was to consider the house as a metaphor for an individual man. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining shows how the violence buried in a hotel's past brings forth the violence latent in the mind of a seemingly ordinary husband and father. Meanwhile in The Changeling, directed by genre veteran Peter Medak, an aging man haunted by recent trauma works in conjunction with the haunted house he's moved into in order for both parties to reach closure. Or at least that's how The Changeling is intriguingly set up. The man (played by George C. Scott) and the old house are directly compared. When he plays the piano, the old house clangs its pipes. When the old man is banging on a lock to reach the house's mysterious attic (seemingly a metaphor for a locked part of his mind), the house is banging and clanging in unison with him. Even the rundown regal-ness of the house matches the craggy aristocratic character of Scott's physiognomy. As all of this is happening, the film seems to have reached this brilliant way of turning the idea of a haunted house into a direct metaphor for a man's mind. We don't know much about the house, but we assume its past trauma resonates with the old man's. However, as soon as the man breaks into the attic and discovers clues regarding the facts of a murder that took place there, things begin to unravel a bit. It's an interesting, but surprisingly involved story for what seemed like a simple, largely psychological film. And it doesn't really parallel the old man's situation enough for the whole metaphor idea to remain as strong. As his character turns into an amateur sleuth set on solving the murder that took place in the house, which involves a wealthy U.S. Senator, we lose track of his own emotional situation and the initial promise of the film is gradually lost to a more complicated plot.