Based on the novel of the same name by Victor LaValle, Apple TV’s fantasy horror series The Changeling sees new father Apollo’s (LaKeith Stanfield) life turn upside down when his wife, Emma (Clark Backo), mysteriously disappears after she becomes convinced that their son isn’t their baby. The show’s title, alongside a sinister storybook involving fairies, is a huge hint to what the culprit behind these strange events is. However, this series’s promise of an odyssey through a fantastical world suggests that there’s more to it than the references to Irish folklore would imply.
The first three episodes, though, serve only as a prolonged setup to the meat of the series, introducing audiences to the key players and illuminating themes surrounding parenting, specifically those of motherhood. Moving from the couple’s romantic meeting to the aftermath of Emma’s departure, there’s a lot packed into the opening episodes. But with no real stakes or direction established this far into the show, becoming invested in their story proves to be a difficult undertaking.
What will keep viewers engaged is Stanfield’s delightful performance: the actor is a constant bright spot throughout the show thus far. Even when his character is responsible for making disastrous horror movie mistakes, the actor’s charisma and humour will have viewers rooting for him. The supporting performers likewise give strong turns, with Backo and Adina Porter (who plays Apollo’s mother) appearing as notable standouts.
Despite its selection of excellent performances, The Changeling stumbles when it comes to delivering its scares. It resists the urge to throw easy jump scares at the camera, but the lack of an effective atmosphere results in the creepier moments falling disappointingly flat. A nightmare scene, for example, establishes little in the way of tension or dread at what’s behind a door, while a later moment that leans into body horror has no bite to its onscreen violence.
With the series only starting to pick up momentum as it enters its halfway point, it’s possible that The Changeling can fulfil its promise of being a grand fantasy horror. But with a lack of effective scares and a notable absence of overall dramatic stakes and direction, it’s unlikely that Stanfield’s charm will be enough to make up for the show’s shortcomings.
The Changeling is released on Apple TV+ on 8th September 2023.
Watch the trailer for The Changeling here: