By: Kayla Caldwell
THE CHANGED is a modern twist on the pod-people/body snatchers genre from director Michael Mongillo, but don’t expect any body horror. In this film, the horror is more social, the fear of other people, and whether or not they can be trusted. Instead of gore, there are pushy neighbors, abrupt sexual overtures, and just so much unknown.
We begin in media res, with protagonists Mac (Jason Alan Smith), Jane (Carlee Avers), and Kim (Clare Foley) already noticing that something seems to be up with their neighbors, coworkers, and friends. The “something” is really in question though, because there isn’t anything egregiously different about any of the “changed” people. Everyone still looks human-like. There’s no weird oozing black or green blood. To be honest, a lot of the “changed,” like Bill (Tony Todd) and Sara (Olivia Freer), just look really good and happy, so the risk is a little hard to assess.
The characters themselves don’t give much detail, as they all just say that everyone is acting “different” or “weird.” At one point Bill seemingly tries to kiss Mac - the action that spurs on the change - but it’s not so much scary as it is just really uncomfortable. “The Changed” also don’t seem to feel any kind of urgency when it comes to kissing every last human, which may be telling of their power and confidence that no one will get away in the end, but reads more like a lack of real stakes. At one point, Kim sneaks away to go speak with Sara, and while the interaction felt odd, it didn’t seem like it was a life or death scenario.
The fact that the transformation doesn’t spill any blood or manifest itself physically, almost at all, makes more climactic scenes fall a bit flat. The true horror requires imagination, in worrying for the future of the protagonists, and what a fully-changed world would look like. The symbolism behind the “betrayal with a kiss” is interesting, but, I think, ends up being one of those things that is more thrilling in writing than it is on screen.
That is not to say there is no horror in THE CHANGED, as a scene with Jane and one of her co-workers had me holding my breath, and preparing to fast-forward if need be. There is also relatability in the acting by Foley and Smith, though the former’s performance is much more understated. Smith shines in Mac’s worst moments, like when he steps away to fully break down, before yelling that everything is okay, and returning to face whatever awaits them.
It’s a deeply relatable moment in a sci-fi-esque film. I also couldn’t help but notice the similarities between their lockdown and our lockdown because of the pandemic, and when viewed through this lens, the film became much more fearsome to me. A TV broadcast featuring Kathy Searle near the end of the film is genuinely creepy, and amps up the stakes, but at this point in the film, it might be too late.
THE CHANGED is a twist on the body snatchers theme, but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. If you’re looking for a more straightforward horror, with gore and body horror, this may not be your bag. However, if you’re a fan of the more discomfort-focused thriller - and Tony Todd - then, at only 1 hour and 20 minutes, THE CHANGED is a quirky, little watch.
THE CHANGED is available in theaters and on demand starting today, March 4.