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‘The Changeling’ tells an eerie baby story that moves at too much of a crawl

<i>Eddy Chen/Apple TV+</i><br/>LaKeith Stanfield and Clark Backo in
Eddy Chen/Apple TV+
LaKeith Stanfield and Clark Backo in "The Changeling" on Apple TV+.

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Eerie, gothic and gradually a little too weird for its own good, “The Changeling” lays out what feels like a modern-day Grimm’s fairy tale, set in and around the strange land of New York. Adopting a literary tone that includes narration by the author of the book on which it’s based, it joins the ranks of limited series that grow more frustrating as they tease out their mysteries.

“Tell me your story, and I will tell you who you are,” author Victor LaValle says at the outset, and frequently repeats, as “The Changeling” goes about telling the stories of Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield), who traffics in rare books; and Emma (Clark Backo), whose romance is intercut with flashbacks involving his parents, how they met, and whether something supernatural might have followed him from one generation into the next.

Specifically, that uneasy sense manifests itself with a baby that seems like a stranger to Emma, exacting a growing toll upon her physically as well as psychically.

As structured, though, “The Changeling” takes its sweet time spooning out clues regarding the forces that might at play, before spinning off in increasingly odd directions during the latter half of its eight-episode run.

The general atmosphere, dreamlike and near-hypnotic, becomes too impenetrable, like a (much) more understated version of HBO’s short-lived “Lovecraft Country.” While the narration gives the exercise a prestige patina – with lines like “In America, we rewrite history by erasing it” – the alternating stories in different timeframes do as much to blunt the drama as enhance it.

On the plus side, the much-in-demand Stanfield (who recently grappled with a more fanciful supernatural threat in Disney’s “Haunted Mansion”) nicely conveys Apollo’s understandable apprehension and confusion over his wife’s behavior, and her growing belief that whatever’s wrapped in that blanket isn’t really their child. Like a lot of horror, the terror resides in taking that which is closest and safest to us and making it alien and foreign.

Still, “Changeling’s” attempt to dress up mythological concepts in 21st-century garb runs headlong into a modern pitfall of a different variety – namely, the TV series that introduces an enticing and layered mystery, only to see its bizarre-baby story advance at something approximating a crawl.

“The Changeling” premieres September 8 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a unit of Apple.)

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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