Auckland may have an influx of hipsters but it seems that Christchurch has a witch problem. Kiwi supernatural thriller The Changeover is a coming of age story with a twist set in the post earthquake-torn city.
Laura is a teenager who’s had a vision that her little brother, Jacko, is in danger. However, her mother does not heed her warning as she believes her daughter has inherited her absent father’s paranoia. Meanwhile, at school, Laura befriends Sorensen Carlisle, who recognizes her as having the capacity to become a witch. So, along with his family (or coven), he helps Laura make the ‘changeover’ in order to save her brother.
Set against the backdrop of a quake-damaged Christchurch, The Changeover is a bleak and emotional tale of a young woman whose daily struggle to balance high school and her difficult home life is exasperated by the supernatural. Kiwi filmmakers, Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie, dip into the popular young adult fantasy genre that has been so popular in cinemas over the last decade. They’ve executed this very well, it’s not cheesy like Twilight, it’s dark, moody and stylish – making it reminiscent of 1987’s The Lost Boys.
Newcomer, Erana James, is outstanding as our young protagonist Laura. Her natural portrayal of teenage angst, and the urgency of her quest to save her brother is extremely well played. Sorensen is played by Nicholas Galitzine, looks the part as the dashing young love interest who’s calming demeanour complements Laura’s mania. Best known for her work as Rose on US comedy Two and a Half Men, Melanie Lynskey plays Laura’s mother, Kate, perfectly in an emotionally charged performance. Timothy Spall, is brilliantly creepy as the vampiric Carmody Braque, the old man obsessed with young Jacko, and is a real highlight. Lucy Lawless has less screen time as Miryam Carlisle, Sorensen mother, but delivers a strong performance nonetheless.
Based on Margaret Mahy’s Carnegie Medal winning book of the same name, there’s no wands or people on broomsticks here; it’s far more subtle, with the ‘magical’ elements of the narrative grounded in reality. Consequently, there’s no need for lots of special effects in this independent film; the tense and uncomfortable atmosphere is delivered via the strong performances, which are complemented via the gloomily shot city and intimate direction. The sub-text of the story is rife with metaphorical puberty innuendo as is the case with many young adult supernatural stories of this ilk.
The Changeover is a dark, gritty coming of age tale and an eerie masterpiece of Kiwi cinema.