‘The Changeling’ series review: LaKeith Stanfield shines in this baffling fairy tale-turned-horror drama

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A still from ‘The Changeling’ 

A still from ‘The Changeling’ 
| Photo Credit: Apple TV+

“Tell me your journey, each of you, tell me your life’s voyage and I’ll tell you who you are,” says narrator Victor LaValle in The Changeling, which is based on the novel of the same name written by him. It becomes the one-liner, the overall crux and a teaser for what’s in store in this new series from Apple TV+. Everyone’s got a past; while some take the silver lining and build themselves to never do what was done to them, some are so traumatised by it that they turn into the very evil that inflicted pain on them. What happens when such an unlikely duo turn into a couple? This forms the basis of The Changeling.

The Changeling Ep: 1-3 (English)

Creator: Kelly Marcel

Cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Adina Porter, Clark Backo, Samuel T. Herring, Jared Abrahamson

Duration: 45 to 50 minutes 

Storyline: A man’s life goes berserk after an incident involving his wife and their newborn child

In The Changeling, Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield) and Emma (Clark Backo) fall in love and enter wedlock. But after the birth of their child, things take a dramatic turn and their lovely fairy tale transforms into a baffling horror story. At the time of writing this review, only the first three episodes are available for streaming, and are inarguably confounding. The first two episodes — despite jumping between different timelines, narrating the childhood stories of both Apollo and Emma, as well as how they meet and end up together — are quite straightforward. The laid-back storytelling employed in the first two episodes takes a backseat when we zoom past them into the third episode where things turn macabre. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the best episode of the lot as unlike the first two episodes that only hinted at something sinister, the darker side revels in all its glory towards the last hour.

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A quick glance at Victor LaValle’s work hints at the story being a complex blend of modern parenting and ancient folklore, and the series encapsulates the essence of the award-winning novel quite well. Within the first three hours, we’re introduced to the childhood traumas of not just Apollo and Emma, but also what their parents have gone through to make sure the two sustained all these years. The Changeling makes you reflect on the difference between this sustenance and the joy of living. For now, the series leaves one too many boxes open and the tonal shifts it undergoes within such a limited timespan don’t work in its favour. But it’s the slow burn treatment coupled with some fantastic performances, especially from LaKeith Stanfield, that provides the fortitude to carry on.

The series bites into several topics like postpartum depression, unresolved childhood trauma, being an immigrant descendent in a city like the Big Apple, and more. But without any closure on them in the near future, the series just uses these themes as fuel to propel itself towards the yet-to-stream episodes. If the uneven storytelling gets smoother as the series progresses and a few smaller knots are periodically untied as bite-sized treats before the big reveal, The Changeling might turn into one of those unhurried and unsettling horror fantasies that would stay rent-free in our minds for a long time.

The Changeling is currently streaming on Apple TV+

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