Adapted from the award-winning novel by Margaret Mahy, The Changeover is a collaboration between first-time director Miranda Harcourt and writer Stuart Mackenzie. Set in Christchurch, New Zealand following a devastating earthquake, Laura Chant (Erana James) and her brother Jacko (Benji Purchase) come across a shipping container, inside they find a collection of old antiquities and one extremely creepy Timothy Spall. The encounter with the disheveled and mysterious Carmody Braque (Spall) sets in motion a series of events which leads Laura to believe that Braque is slowly siphoning her brother’s life. Laura has the power to help her brother, as a “sensitive” she’s just one trippy dream-like state away from becoming a fully-fledged witch. Help comes in the form of fellow witch, Sorensen Carlisle (Nicholas Galitzine) and his family.
What at first seems like an obvious and predictable YA film, in fact explores hidden emotional depths, whether it’s aware of it or not. Melanie Lynskey plays hard-working Mum Kate Chant, trying to make ends meet following her husband’s death. Ultimately it’s a tale about grief and what it means to grow up. Laura fears her own journey into adulthood but fears even more for her brother Jacko’s and takes it upon herself to act as protector.
The Changeover is as tragic as it is uplifting, merging the lines of reality and what could be Laura’s own internal narrative protecting her from the truth. The film comments on mental health; what we inherit from our parents and the denial we struggle to overcome in times of crisis.
The narrative and overarching story itself does lack some substance. Laura’s journey of discovery about her new abilities is rushed and the characters often don’t seem as fleshed out as they should be. Ends are left untied and it lacks coherence at times. It chimes of similar supernatural teen romps such as Twilight but with less character development.
The film’s tumble-down location of Christchurch provides the perfect setting; a broken family in a broken town. Audience members will certainly question what to believe, whether everything we see through Laura’s eyes is fact or fabrication and the only way she can protect herself from the realities of the events surrounding her.
There is solid acting throughout. Spall, Lynskey and James all deliver top notch performances. Hard-hitting and thought provoking subjects await those who delve deeper into the film’s boughs. It strikes a comfortable balance between charming Kiwi drama and teen romance with darkness at its periphery.