The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE TURNING | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE TURNING

the turning review
A young woman finds malevolent forces at play in the sprawling home where she serves as governess to two children.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Floria Sigismondi

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Joely Richardson

the turning poster

Henry James' 1898 novella 'The Turn of the Screw' is a staple of the horror genre, spawning numerous screen adaptations down the years. The most successful is Jack Clayton's 1961 masterpiece The Innocents, while Dan Curtis's 1974 made for TV movie does an effective job within its network TV confines. Michael Winner made a pointless prequel, 1972's The Nightcomers, notable only for Marlon Brando's hilarious attempt at an Irish accent, while Alejandro Amenábar adapted James' tale in all but name with his 2001 chiller The Others, and Netflix is currently in pre-production on a series adaptation from the makers of The Haunting of Hill House. With so many takes already in existence, can anything new be added to James' iconic story?

the turning review

In the hands of The Turning's director, Floria Sigismondi, and writers, Carey and Chad Hayes, quite a bit is added, none of it wisely. The tale is brought forward from its Victorian era setting, not to today, but to 1994, for no other discernible reason than to allow its heroine, Kate (Mackenzie Davis), to make phone calls to a friend in which she explains the plot for anyone in the audience who might have dosed off, but to remove the horror storytelling menace that is modern communications technology (a couple of years later and Kate could have jumped on Google in search of answers).

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - The Grudge ]

While transplanting the setting from Victorian England to grunge era America, the core of James' story remains intact. Kate is a young woman who accepts the position of governess on a sprawling country estate. There she is charged with the welfare of two children - the creepy goth Miles (Finn Wolfhard) and the precocious Flora (Brooklynn Prince) - whose parents died in a car crash. Things begin to go bump in the night and Kate suspects the estate may be haunted by the ghosts of Quint, a sadistic groundskeeper who served as a bad influence on Miles, and Miss Jessel, the previous governess, who was held under the dominant sway of the cruel Quint.

the turning review

Moving the scenario to a more contemporary setting is detrimental to any mood and atmosphere that might have been imbued in this story. For a start, '90s America (though the movie is clearly filmed in Ireland) just doesn't offer the same creepy ambience as Victorian England. Giving its heroine access to modern conveniences like telephones and a car removes the stifling sense that she's essentially trapped on the estate, and there are more than a few moments where you find yourself wondering why Kate doesn't just up and leave.

[ READ MORE: London Film Festival 2019 Review - The Lighthouse ]

The most egregious update is the addition of a nonsensical subplot concerning Kate's mother (Joely Richardson), a troubled inmate at a mental facility. Suggestions are made that Kate may have inherited her mother's condition, and that the spooky goings on around her are simply figments of her imagination. But this line of reasoning makes no sense, as in an early scene we witness a mannequin independently move its head after Kate has left a room, so we know that supernatural forces are indeed at play. Yet the film persists in attempting to cast doubt in the viewers' mind, as though the filmmakers simply forgot they had injected this early scene. Elsewhere, the original story's implicit subtext of toxic masculinity is explicitly spoon fed to the audience here in a manner that reeks of a desperation to be "a movie for our times."

the turning review

If The Turning is to have any future life beyond its likely brief theatrical run, it may prove useful to screenwriting lecturers if compared with Clayton's The Innocents as examples of how and how not to write a horror movie. Clayton employs visual storytelling to get under your skin, and its most terrifying moments sneak up on you, instilling every scene with dread and keeping the viewer on their toes throughout. Sigismondi's version relies heavily on lazy jump scares, and too often its heroine verbalises a terror that the film simply fails to communicate visually to the audience. As the director of some of the most iconic music videos of the '90s, Sigismondi's visual style proved hugely influential on the American horror movies of the late '90s and early 2000s, but on the evidence of The Turning, a talent for creating a memorable four minute promo doesn't translate to an ability to craft a feature length story and keep an audience invested, engaged and on edge.

The Turning is in UK/ROI cinemas January 24th.

2020 movie reviews