It’s surprising that it’s taken Margaret Mahy’s 1984 Carnegie Award-winning novel so long to make it to the screen, particularly given the ascendance of Twilight ten years or so ago. The Changeover: A Supernatural Romance is very much Young Adult literature, sharing elements with Stephanie Meyer’s later book, and the screenplay by co-director Stuart McKenzie only serves to emphasise those elements, perhaps somewhat at the cost of coherency or credibility.
Erana James is New Zealander Laura Chant, a sixteen year old whose father committed suicide and whose mother works so many hours, the daughter is essentially in loco parentis to her much younger brother, Jacko (Purchase). But Laura is also a “sensitive”, receiving extrasensory signs warning her of danger to her sibling, and after a chance meeting with an old man called Braque, who runs an antique shop from a huge street-side crate in Christchurch, Jacko is taken ill with a condition medical science can’t identify. Desperate for help, Laura turns to the new boy at school, the taciturn, tenebrific Sorensen Carlisle (Galitzine). He turns out to be the younger of three generations of witches, and recognises the cause of Jacko’s illness by the mark stamped onto the back of his hand by Braque – who is thus identified as an ancient parasite feeding off the lifeforce of his victims as a way of sustaining eternal life.
The whole story revolves around Laura’s “Changeover”, the ritual by which she joins the coven of witches and achieves the power by which she can save Jacko’s life – and this sequence takes up much of the last third of the film. It’s all a metaphor for reaching maturity and leaving adolescent concerns behind, of course, and if you’re not the target audience, you probably aren’t going to buy into a single part of it. There are any number of sub-plots involving a black cat, butterflies (signifying the metamorphosis, geddit?) and a theme of powerlessness except through invitation, most of which are obvious but at least relatively satisfying, and you can tell that a lot of the ideas and dialogue probably came across much more reasonably on the page. On screen though, it sometimes looks like a lot of people being achingly serious about some quite ridiculous things.
That said, despite a low budget, McKenzie and co-director Miranda Harcourt have managed to produce a film that looks terrific, if rather subdued and grey, and the performances across the board are excellent (especially from young Erana Lewis, basically starting out with this). Even Nicholas Galitzine manages to give the rather two-dimensional Sorensen a bit of life by the end.
If you didn’t like Twilight, you won’t like this (although it’s much pacier), but our nineteen year old test audience was sufficiently engrossed.
Special Features: none
THE CHANGEOVER / DIRECTOR: MIRANDA HARCOURT, STUART MCKENZIE / SCREENPLAY: STUART MCKENZIE / STARRING: TIMOTHY SPALL, MELANIE LYNSKEY, LUCY LAWLESS, NICHOLAS GALITZINE, ERANA JAMES, BENJI PURCHASE / CERT: 12 / RELEASE DATE: 27TH AUGUST 2018