Full disclosure, I’ve never read “The Turn of the Screw” but I’m fully aware of Henry James’ famous novella and its legacy as a horror classic. The book has been adapted numerous times to the big screen and has even influenced some modern classics, so it seemed inevitable that the novella would again earn a big screen edition eventually and we got that from Universal Pictures in the form of “The Turning”. Led by notable music video and commercial director Floria Sigismondi and once considered a passion project for Steven Spielberg, “The Turning” stars the very capable Mackenzie Davis as Kate, a young woman hired as a governess for a pair of orphan children played by Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince only to discover that their home may play host to a vindictive and dangerous force. With a worthy source material to draw from this had the potential to be a pretty creepy horror offering, but does it live up to those expectations? Let’s find out in my review of “The Turning”.
So, first of I swear I still enjoy movies, but man this January has just SUCKED in terms of quality material save for a few exceptions. Unfortunately “The Turning” is just more evidence that January is truly a dump month for crappy products. “The Turning” is one of the most boring and directionless horror pictures I’ve seen in some time. It’s an hour and a half movie that takes over and hour to get even remotely close to its muddled point and even when it looks like it finally has its footing it upends itself with not one but TWO endings that only leave the audience completely confused as to what to think with very little pay off if any at all. I literally found myself checking out after and hour realizing that absolutely nothing was happening. It wasn’t scary, engaging, interesting or thought provoking. It just kind of exists.
I can’t say there was no effort put into this picture though. The atmosphere is sufficiently creepy, and the casting is full of good choices, they’re just not given anything of quality to work with. Finn Wolfhard plays a convincingly creepy child but because the film holds so many of its cards close to the chest we never really get to understand his psyche or what drives him to be the way that he is. It’s basically just a creepy kid for the sake of being creepy. Brooklyn Prince is a nice choice for Flora, the young girl in the film, and seems to have a lot of fun with swapping between being mysterious and infectiously giddy but once again the material does nothing with this. Mackenzie Davis is the biggest wasted talent in this picture. She makes the most of what she has to work with but she’s clearly unsure of how to properly handle each scenario. Instead of embracing her character’s decent into insanity or fear of the strange events taking place she tries to ride the middle line to keep us guessing and as a result provides a confused performance where it feels like even she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be doing.
I think what it comes down to with “The Turning” is that maybe it’s trying too hard and thus doesn’t try hard enough. In today’s world it’s not uncommon for horror films to depend on slow pacing, disturbing visuals and a fear of the unseen versus what is seen to create more artistic horror than the jump scares we’ve become accustomed to. But “The Turning” never really finds a balance between subtlety and genuine horror and thus fails at capturing either element correctly. It’s not scary because nothing happens, and nothing happens because its wants to be a more sophisticated kind of scary…kind of ironic right? There are some fun elements hidden within this film and although I’ve yet to actually read its source material I can see some of its themes playing out well on the page, but the movie doesn’t seem to understand how to adapt these themes for the visual medium. It’s just dry and never seems to know where it’s headed or how to get there. Then when we finally do get to the ending even that feels like shaky ground. There are two finales, one meant to make us question is it’s all in Kate’s head and another that implies it’s all real and we, the audience, are left to wonder which is true. However instead of presenting this in a unique manner that genuinely produces intrigue they are presented in a way that implies that even the filmmakers didn’t know which one to go with so they just stuck them both in to see what would happen. This gives the final moments an disconnected feeling as if a deleted scene was thrown in the the end of the movie at the last minute with no forethought. Walking out of the theater I was far from the only one complaining that the finale felt out of left field and completely random. What we have here is a horror film that fails to be interesting, fails to be scary and fails to stick the landing in any way.
“The Turning” is bad. It’s really bad. It’s “why did I waste my time with this” bad…and sadly it’s one of several films in January of 2020 that ended up being an unwatchable mess. There’s nothing intriguing, scary or remotely interesting about this product and the worst part is the filmmakers clearly thought there would be. So, what could have been an engaging and thought provoking viewing only ends up feeling like a pretentious slow burn with nothing new, creative or effective to say and no semblance of a completed story to tide us over for its thankfully short run time. Despite its solid cast and admittedly fun atmosphere “The Turning” is an absolute bore lacking substance to compliment its style and failing to breath any life into a story that, at its core, clearly had potential if it had been in better hands both behind the camera and in the writers room. My take: don’t waste your time. Turn away from this snooze fest and wait for much better horror experiences to come along.