Six films that explore the horror of grief and trauma

A scene from CENSOR, a Magnet release. © CPL/SSF. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
A scene from CENSOR, a Magnet release. © CPL/SSF. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing. /
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grief and trauma
Photo: The Changeling (1980) / Chessman Park Productions.. Image Courtesy Shudder /

The Changeling is an 80s classic, and it’s a ghost story that definitely withstands the test of time. At its heart is a man so heavily affected by grief and trauma that he steps away from his successful life as a composer in New York City in an effort to heal.

George C. Scott gives a heartfelt performance as John Russell, the composer. The grief and trauma he is experiencing stems from the deaths of his wife and young daughter, which he witnessed. When the family’s car broke down, John stepped into a nearby phone booth to call for help, and was watching his wife and child play in the snow. Therefore, he was watching when a car and truck collision resulted in their deaths.

John escapes to Seattle to recover from the tragedy, and rents a large historical mansion from Claire (Trish Van Devere), who tells him it has been unoccupied for the past 12 years. The troubles start right away, as John begins to hear a banging noise in the mornings. One night, he discovers the water faucets in the house are on, and sees a small boy drowned in a bathtub.

The discovery of a hidden, boarded up room in the attic starts John and Claire on a mission to discover exactly who is the ghost haunting the mansion. At first they believe it’s the ghost of a little girl who was killed in a car accident on the property (thus tapping into John’s grief over his own daughter), but a séance proves otherwise.

The Changeling includes two of my favorite scenes in supernatural horror films. The first involves a red ball found by John in a box of his things. It belonged to his daughter, and he tearfully drives to a bridge and throws the ball into the water. Shortly after returning home, he hears a noise on the stairs, and sees the red ball bouncing down the steps…and it’s wet.

The other iconic scene is of the séance, where it’s discovered that the ghost child is actually a little boy named Joseph. That scene still has the power to raise goosebumps every time I watch it.

As the mystery of Joseph begins to unravel, John’s grief and trauma begin to transform, and he becomes more determined to help the child rest in peace. The Changeling can currently be streamed on Tubi.