Tag Archives: B-

THE CHANGEOVER

Producer: Emma Slade
Director: Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie
Writer: Stuart McKenzie
Stars: Erana James, Timothy Spall, Nicholas Galitzine, Melanie Lynskey, Lucy Lawless, Kate Harcourt, Benji Purchase, Ella Edward, Thomasin McKenzie and Claire Van Beek
Studio: Vertical Entertainment

B-

New Zealand author Margaret Mahy’s well-received 1984 YA novel serves as the basis for this adaptation by Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie, which brings a moody, hallucinatory cast to its story of a girl with second sight who must embrace her destiny as a full-fledged witch in order to save her little brother from possession by a demonic creature that feasts on the life-force of children to remain immortal.

The teen protagonist, Laura Chant, is played, quite well, by Erana James: she’s a girl with the power to intuit bad things before they happen. Having survived a recent earthquake in her hometown of Christchurch in which her father died, she’s extraordinarily protective of her brother Jacko (Benji Purchase), especially since her mother Kate (Melanie Lynskey) remains traumatized by the national—and familial—tragedy.

She’s approached by Sorenson Carlisle (Nicholas Galitzine), a handsome but diffident schoolmate who tries to warn her that she’s in danger, but blows him off. Unfortunately, it’s an admonition she should have taken seriously. Soon after Jacko is approached by Carmody Braque (Timothy Spall), a friendly but off-putting fellow who’s opening a fly-by-night antique shop in a cramped storage shed. Suspicious Laura tries to pry her brother away, but before they can leave Braque genially stamps the boy’s hand with an image of himself—an act that, as Laura later learns, begins the takeover process.

As Jacko becomes more and more listless, winding up in the hospital and in need of an operation to survive, Laura turns to Sorenson, who’s able to explain what’s happening. His inability to help on his own leads him to introduce Laura to his mother Miryam (Lucy Lawless) and grandmother Winter (Kate Harcourt), who can show her the way to embrace her destiny, confront Braque and liberate the victims he’s accumulated over the centuries. Whether she can save Jacko, however, remains in doubt to the very end.

Harcourt and McKenzie, along with cinematographer Andrew Stroud and editor Dan Kircher, cultivate a woozy, off-center style in “The Changeover”—a title with a double meaning, referring to both Jacko and Laura—that is bound to disorient many viewers; the final reel, in particular, goes on a journey that seems almost chaotic, and concludes with a literal miracle that, one would imagine, would attract far more public attention than is the case here.

On the other hand, the cast is excellent. James makes a feisty heroine—more determined Katniss Everdeen than whimpering Bella Swan—and though handsome, Galitzine’s Sorensen never grabs center stage the way Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen did. The others—Linskey, Lawless, Harcourt, little Purchase—all play things straight, refusing to wink at the audience as the story unfolds.

The ace in the deck, though, is Spall. The modestly-budgeted movie is hardly awash in special effects, but with him, they’re hardly needed. To be sure, his closing transformation involves some creepy imagery, but up until that point, apart from some light youth-enhancing makeup and a skillful blending of separate lines of dialogue turning on and echoing one another (kudos to the sound design team headed by Melanie Graham), he makes his frightening impression through quite direct means. Other films have demonstrated his ability to exude malice, but none has put his smarmy, sinister side to better, more unsettling use.

Without Spall, this would be intriguing but dispensable; he single-handedly raises it to the level of an effective teen thriller, imperfect but nonetheless worth a look.

ARCTIC

Producer: Christopher Lemole, Tim Zajaros and Noah C. Haeussner
Director: Joe Penna
Writer: Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen and Maria Thelma Smaradottir
Studio: Bleecker Street

B-

Survival stories that emphasize the indomitability of the human spirit can either go a romantic route (for instance, the recent “The Mountain Between Us”) or keep to a sterner path, as, for example, Robert Redford’s “All Is Lost” did. Joe Penna’s “Arctic” chooses the latter option, even if the ending, if taken literally, is more upbeat. (It might, on the other hand, be intended as a hallucination.)

The film begins in medias res, as we find Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen), the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Arctic, struggling to survive alone until rescue arrives. He has set up several lines in holes in the ice, all rigged to sound an alarm when a fish bites, and carefully stores his catch in a locker inside the wrecked aircraft. He also sleeps in the cabin and keeps a record of the days as they pass. During the day he laboriously builds an SOS sign of rocks atop the snow that can be seen from the air, and dusts it off regularly to make sure it remains visible. He also laboriously cranks a signal transmitter in hopes someone will be close enough to hear it.

Finally his efforts pay off: a helicopter shows up. Unfortunately, it’s caught in heavy winds and crashes, too. The pilot is dead, and only the female co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) survives—but barely: she’s seriously injured, with a deep gash in her side, and is only semi-conscious, unable to speak.

Her need for medical treatment prompts Overgard to change his plans. He rigs up a sled for her and whatever supplies he can manage, maps out what he thinks would be the best route through the hills and valleys, and determines to pull her to a research facility. The rest of the film is devoted to the journey, an unbelievably difficult trek marked not only by natural obstacles, but by the appearance of a third character—a ravenous polar bear.

The great strength of “Arctic” lies in its feeling of authenticity. The sense of place—frigid, unforgiving, always dangerous—is palpable (it was shot in Iceland), especially as captured in Tómas Örn Tómasson’s crisp cinematography. Penna and his editor Ryan Morrison (who also co-wrote the minimalist dialogue) moves the film along at a stately—some might say glacial—pace, giving the widescreen images a poetic cast.

No less convincing is Miikkelsen, who genuinely looks as though he’s been stuck in the Arctic wilderness for a couple of months, and who grimly conveys Overgard’s combination of desperation, determination and utter exhaustion. Though Smáradóttir’s is clearly a more passive role, she suffers persuasively. Unfortunately, the bear’s big close-up is marred by some less-than-stellar effects; from a distance, however, the animal is plenty impressive.

As with most tales of one person’s lonely struggle against the elements, the slow, repetitive quality of “Arctic” can test a viewer’s patience, but Mikkelsen’s doggedness and the crystal-clear visuals make for a compelling, if daunting, journey. You might, however, want to take a jacket along to the theatre with you: the mere act of watching Overgard’s struggle might bring on a chill.