Director Floria Sigismondi’s The Turning was the latest adaptation of the classic 1898 horror novella “The Turn of the Screw.” The film follows Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) who takes a job as a governess to a young orphan named Flora Fairchild (Brooklynn Prince) and her brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard), who returns home after expulsion from boarding school.
At times the film can be quite beautiful: it’s full of atmospheric shots, interesting sets, and smart wardrobe choices that serve to subtly display the characters’ mental stability scene to scene. Unfortunately, those few glimmers of light are hidden between cheesy transitions, establishing shots of unrelated places, grainy darks, overexposed lights, and completely out-of-focus scenes. The Turning makes it beyond easy to lose sight of the positives.
It’s chock full of tired imagery that abandons storytelling in favor of finding a way to scare the tweens in the audience. A bloody Barbie shown in passing. A basement full of cages with no explanation. A mannequin possessed by Grandma Fairchild whose head turns twice before fading into oblivion. Three separate jumpscares in a bathroom mirror. A pet spider shown for less than a second. The “scary” scenes never feel interwoven with the plot, they’re sprinkles added onto a cup of tart frozen yogurt.
The Turning sets the scene with an opening that spoils the film before jumping into a news report on Kurt Cobain’s death that is seemingly meant to place the characters in a time before cell phones were widespread. Rather than using this period to add something unique to the story, it’s used as a vehicle to play grunge music every chance it gets.
The film attempts to evoke sympathy for the main character, which falls flat and hard. Kate forces the fact that her dad left into every conversation she can, asks questions about plot details the audience has been clued in on from the first two minutes, and is irrationally defiant and angry towards the other characters.
The orphans aren’t much better: Miles is a classic horror caricature, full of classic lines like, “It’s broken… Just like you!” after a porcelain doll anticlimactically hits the ground. Flora has no clear character; at times she’s an innocent little girl, other times she’s just as creepy as Miles with no motivation behind the change.
The writers clearly were attempting to make a story that forces the audience to question reality, but by the third fake-out ending any previous interest fizzles out and is replaced with a strong feeling that you just wasted your money. This movie is a flaming pile of cliches, poor writing, and knockoff Nirvana. One out of five.