Plot: John Russell (George C. Scott) has just moved into a massive old mansion, which has held no residents for some time. Russell used to have a loving wife and daughter, but now he is alone in life and tries to just make it through each day. His loved ones were taken from him in a tragic car accident, with his life never being the same after that. No matter how hard he has tried, Russell simply hasn’t been able to move on and leave the past behind him. Now he has retired to this huge and eerie mansion, where he will spend his remaining days in seclusion. He thinks within this place he can find the inner peace he needs, since no outside forces are present to distract him. So Russell is all alone in this massive mansion…or is he? At first everything seems in order and normal, but soon Russell starts to notice strange things and hear unusual noises. These acts are minor at first, but slowly become more and more prominent. To Russell, it seems as though someone (or something) is trying to tell him something, but he is unable to understand what the message is. He is determined to learn what the force wants him to know, but even with extensive research and paranormal experts, will he ever really know the truth about his new home?
Entertainment Value: I’ve seen countless haunted house movies, but The Changeling stands head and shoulders above most in the genre, with an eerie, unsettling atmosphere and a grounded texture that makes it all seem authentic. The genre is overflowing with films that focus on cheap scares, but this movie is driven by mood and restraint, with superbly effective results. The narrative invests the time to establish and develop George C. Scott’s Russell, which is invaluable and while the pace is a slow burn style, this is never dull or overly slow. If the pace downshifts, it is with a purpose in mind, as this is quite an efficient picture. Even so, I know some horror fans prefer the cheap scares and faster pace, so this isn’t for that demographic. But even if you don’t normally connect with more deliberate ghost stories, this one might convert you, as it is masterful and knows how to make the goosebumps rise. The film’s visuals are also remarkable, with a refined, polished presence that bolsters the unnerving atmosphere and helps keep you hooked in. This is simply one of the most effective haunted house movies ever, so if you have even a casual interest in the genre or horror cinema in general, The Changeling deserves a place in your collection.
If you want a movie to have weight and feel authentic, having George C. Scott in the lead role is a great foundation to build on. While some performers go at half speed in horror movies and see it as just a paycheck, Scott is on point and delivers Russell as a fully developed, believable presence. His skill is most evident when he needs to convey the loss and isolation within the character, but even more kinetic, horror driven scenes are handled with ease. The gravitas he brings to the role can’t be overpraised, he adds so much to the film and with a different lead, The Changeling would have likely felt like a much lesser experience. The enhanced focus on character and mood means Scott and his costars had to step up and thankfully, that’s what happened. The cast here also includes Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh, and Trish Van Devere, while Peter Medak directs with a skilled, confident hand.