Oct 27, 2023
Marie Claire Cushinan, Ryan O'Neill
Marie Clare Cushinan
Marie Claire Cushinan, Ryan O'Neill, Jake O'Kane
Irish horror Changeling taps in to the ultimate parental fear of child loss and combines this with unnerving superstitions and gothic fears to craft a stylish and effective short that leaves an authentic impression along with a disturbing and lingering sense of dread.
Margaret (Marie Clare Cushinan) and Thomas (Ryan O’Neill) are a young couple who experience an unthinkable tragedy when their son Oisin (Keelan McKee) passes. In a desperate time of hunger in Ireland, Thomas painfully understands their loss. But Margaret begins to have visions of her child continuing to live in a deathly state. She is adamant that their son’s spirit will return to his body, but Thomas wishes to see him buried with dignity. As he puts plans into action, Margaret’s visions become more intense, and encourage her to take her own steps.
Changeling understands how to build visceral fear in its viewers without resorting to extravagance. The devastation of the tragedy that befalls Thomas and Margaret needs no explanation. But directors and stars Marie Clare Cushinan and Ryan O’Neill largely understand that less is more when representing the type of dread that comes into their character’s lives. Margaret’s visions and growing insanity is self-evidently scary. But some of the film’s most moving and harrowing scenes come courtesy of Thomas’ attempts at dutifully and stubbornly pushing down his emotions at what has happened to him – and his own irrationalities as his wife displays hers. A scene in which he stumbles through a local village carrying his son’s body is truly heartbreaking – and a fine example of how even the strongest of us can be broken by loss.
Indeed, the film’s strongest elements are its exploration of the cruelty of inexplicable loss. The background of the famine that has cost Thomas and Margaret their son, and the lives they thought they could lead as a family, is ever-present in the subtext of the film. Both parents try and cope in their own way – but in some sense both reactions result in further pain to each other. One senses at the film’s climax that both quiet suffering, and existential, otherworldly escape, are processes by which we as individuals try to make sense of pain – but ultimately neither are a substitute for straightforward grieving, and ultimately a desire to change the conditions that caused the suffering in the first place.
A chill comes over the viewer just watching the film – as the harsh and wet conditions project out from the dark hues that the film is drenched in. Flickering candles as Margaret sews, awaiting her son’s return, are also a brilliant way to convey her emerging madness. These are the sorts of touches that elevate the film beyond its already distressing story into really memorable and lasting horror. There are some production hiccups – none more prominent than the design of Oisin in Margaret’s visions – which looks like E.T. after a night on the lash and sticks out like a sore thumb in amongst the more subtle inferences elsewhere in the film.
As both directors and stars, Thomas O’Neill and Marie Clare Cushinan have clearly poured a great deal of commitment and care into the film – and their efforts were clearly worthwhile. Changeling is a brilliant short horror with a moving and profound story, fine performances, creepy and crafted ambiance and engrossing narrative.