The Changeover review

The cinematic adaptation of Margaret Mahy's novel The Changeover has just hit the big screen here - a film shot in Mahy's hometown of Christchurch.

From the opening few frames of this film its haunting subject matter seeps into the consciousness and in my case, did not let go.

Teenager Laura Chant spends most of her time after school taking care of her little brother Jacko while her mum (Melanie Lynskey) works.

When they meet a mysterious man (Timothy Spall) living in the post-quake ruins, Laura's senses are set alight - and not in a good way.

And as vigilant as she is, protecting her precious brother will become the hardest and most confronting thing she will ever do.

Laura will need all the help she can get to keep her family together and an inexplicable connection with a handsome prefect at her school will bring all manner of confusing emotions.

Not everything is as it appears.

I found this film deeply immersive and affecting, and no question we are witnessing the birth of a real star in young newcomer Erana James.

The class of Spall adds another layer onto what's already an impressive directorial debut for Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie.

Four stars.