The Changeover: Film Review
Cast: Erana James, Timothy Spall, Melanie Lynskey, Lucy Lawless
Director: Miranda Harcourt, Stuart Maconie
Mixing elements of The Tattooist and bizarrely, Twilight, The Changeover is the cinematic version of Margaret Mahy's Carnegie Medal winning book that dabbles in the supernatural.
Set in post-earthquake Christchurch, it's the story of school girl Laura Chant (a subtly nuanced Erana James) whose life has been wrecked by both the quake and personal circumstances.
With her mother (Melanie Lynskey) working long and late hours, Laura's forced to look after her younger brother Jacko.
But having premonitions something bad is about to occur to Jacko, Laura finds her worst fears confirmed when she meets Carmody Braque (Timothy Spall, suitably sinister and vaguely paedophilic) in the containers of downtown Christchurch.
When Jacko's given an ink stamp by Carmody, he mysteriously falls ill and Laura begins to suspect the worst.
However, she discovers there's more afoot in Christchurch than she realises....
The Changeover makes great fist of its post-earthquake Christchurch to give the Mahy novel a redolence that's both poignant and able to convey the turmoil in Chant's life.
Liquefaction bubbles up among the cherry blossoms of the town and when James intones that "the earthquake broke the city, and it broke my family", you can feel the melancholy seeping in.
Equally, the use of Bic Runga's Sway and Melanie Lynskey's sweet sing-along to the classic and containers and the rebuild ground this film firmly in the south island, but yet timelessly in the appeal.
Unfortunately, some of the clunkier dialogue between Laura and her beau (who's clearly been cast more for his looks than acting prowess) give The Changeover a horrible tingling feeling of a return to the corny overwrought dialogue of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga.
Saddled with reams of exposition about the supernatural, the film almost falters despite the directors' visual flourishes of the manifestation of the supernatural coming-of-age edges.
Equally unhelpful is an underwritten Lawless, whose screen time is squashed and whose presence is wasted.
But thanks to a sinister Spall, who channels both Childcatcher and slimy paedophilic edges as the bad guy, and an extremely impressive turn from newcomer James, The Changeover manages to stay afloat when other elements conspire to attempt to drag it down like a witch under water.
If anything, The Changeover will play to an audience under-served from the New Zealand film market for many years and bravely tries to position itself as something of a teen film with weightier darker issues around the edge. It sort of works and channels an era of yesteryear, but it's largely thanks to the truly impressive talents of James, whose natural presence and expression of the usual teenage tropes helps mark The Changeover out as something worth taking a punt on for an afternoon out.