Film And Movies

What Went Wrong With… The Turning?

A review of The Turning (2020)

I’m no literature buff (or “book nonce” as I like to call them) so I’ll admit from the outset that I’ve never read The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James. I have however, watched the most famous adaptation; The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr and The Others starring Nicole Kidman which was also loosely based on the story. Both these movies successfully conveyed a ghostly atmosphere but the latest adaptation called The Turning, is far from being creepy or atmospheric. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, a music video director who’s made a couple of TV show episodes and the rather dull rock-biopic The Runaways, this film is hugely disappointing. Ex-music-video movie directors are usually more concerned with heightened aesthetics rather than substance, and previous Hollywood music video inductees include twats such as Michael Bay and Zack Snyder but Sigismondi’s film doesn’t visually standout like these two slick-yet-soulless filmmakers. Thanks to Floria, The Turning resembles a Netflix horror film that you’d watch because it’s the middle of the night and you’ve exhausted the horror category but after the credits roll you’d immediately down-vote it.

This film is an example of someone throwing every horror cliche at the screen hoping one of them will stick: wet ghostly footprints, a torch in a dark hallway, misty lakes, “look behind you” jump scares, apparitions in reflected surfaces, but unfortunately none of them work. Written by Carey and Chad Hayes who wrote the brilliant The Conjuring but also the terrible House Of Wax, The Turning seems to have more similarities with the latter.

The setup for The Turning is straightforward: Mackenzie Davis plays Kate, someone who’s just landed the job of live-in-tutor-slash-nanny for two privileged children who live in a huge empty estate (Miles played by Finn Wolfhard and Flora played by Brooklynn Prince). Miles and Flora’s parents have passed away and so too has their previous hired help. The orphans live with Mrs. Grose (played by Barbara Marten) who treats them like something to be protected and spoiled; they can’t leave their house but they’re free to misbehave. Beyond that however, this film is very incoherent. We never really discover why or how anything is happening. If you’ve watched the aforementioned The Others or The Innocents and expect some of the same, you’ll be disappointed; The Turning is much more haphazard and unfocussed although it does attempt a twist of sorts but even that fails miserably.

Starring Mackenzie Davis who recently took part in the worst Terminator movie in the entire franchise, it seems like she’s a poor judge of scripts and talent when she’s accepting these filmic atrocities. Davis seems like a likeable person and I think she’s capable of carrying a film but the ones she’s picked so far are beyond terrible. The rest of the cast aren’t much better. Brooklynn Prince is no Pamela Franklin, in fact she looks like Jacob Tremblay in drag (but with less presence). Finn Wolfhard seems to be slowly turning into Rodney Alcala as he ages, and yet despite this, he cannot convincingly play someone who is domineering or conniving. Descendant of nepotism Joely Richardson plays Kate’s mental mother but she’s not in the film enough to even critique.

After watching the entire flick, I still don’t know what it’s about since there’s no focus on a particular story or character; there’s a weak-willed nanny, ghosts of previous workers, horse abuse, mentally-ill mothers, the children can’t leave their house even though one’s just returned from boarding school, but none of it really comes together to form a coherent plot. I mean is there a reason for the ’90s setting other than the fact that Wolfhard is probably sick of the ’80s after his stint in Stranger Things? And how pray tell, can someone who isn’t clairvoyant or mentally ill foretell the future and see visions in charcoal scribblings?

The Turning is as, if not more disappointing than the BBC adaptation from 2009 (which I switched off a third of the way through). The second season of Netflix’ The Haunting Of Hill House (The Haunting Of Bly Manor) is also supposed to be an adaptation of Henry James novella. Lets hope it’s better than these other recent failures.

There’s a scene in this movie involving ghostly-hands that looked to me like Thing from Addams Family had turned into a sexual assaulter. There’s another scene that evoked Full Metal Jacket‘s “Let me see your war/brave face” followed by some primal screaming, there’s even parts of this film that looked like a crap remake of What Lies Beneath, but The Turning is not in the same league as any of these movies. Sigismondi and Hayes have created a complete mess of a film. The ending is especially terrible; it’s like an afterthought, something tacked-on after a test screening. Why is Kate’s mother (who has nothing to do with the haunted estate) a demon? And why after that non-reveal is someone fingering oil paintings during the end credits? Who knows and who cares?

Turning Out Shite.

Writing: 2/10

Directing: 2/10

Acting: 5/10

Overall: 2/10

3 replies »

  1. Book nonce? That’s like if I called an old school rap lover a “vinyl humper”. I agree with everything else though.

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