Review: The Turning
PLOT: A young woman finds herself haunted by a ghostly presence after taking a job caring for a young girl in a dreary mansion.
REVIEW: You know when you sit down in the audience and find yourself having a good time at a film that appears to be suprisingly enjoyable, and then somehow it seems to unravel by the final act? Yeah, this one almost had me. Let’s be honest, January horror is oftentimes subpar and overloaded with cheap jump scares and bad CGI. And then there’s THE TURNING. Based on the classic tale The Turn of the Screw written by Henry James, this slightly modernized interpretation features an impressive cast, a spooky mansion and a couple of intriguing ideas. Unfortunately, the film suffers from a terrible beginning sequence, and then there is the final act… I’ll get to that later. Somewhere in this feature is a creepy and atmospheric thriller that could’ve been quite compelling. It’s a shame all that is good is watered down with odd editing choices, and a story that feels rushed, uneven and disjointed.
Mackenzie Davis is Kate, a young teacher who decides to take a job as a “governess” for a little girl named Flora (Brooklyn Prince). Once she arrives, Kate is in awe of the gothic beauty of the mansion, but there is something strange about the place when the only adult at the home is the stern and cold housekeeper, Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten). Things get even more problematic when Flora’s brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) arrives home unexpectedly from his posh boarding school. As Kate attempts to truly connect to her young watch, she receives undesired advances from Miles, and she also keeps seeing ghostly visions that disappear as quickly as they show up. Is Kate going crazy? Or is she haunted by something sinister that lingers in the dark? If only the filmmakers had a bit more faith in the story they were telling, we’d probably have a better idea.
The opening scene in THE TURNING is wretched. A girl gets in a car and tries to drive off the property. Clearly she is being chased or hunted, but we aren’t sure by what. This is the type of sequence that is common in horror movies, but apparently they didn’t want to waste too much time on this side character. It’s a ridiculously quick and choppy sequence that barely leaves an impression. Even with that painful start, as the film progresses, it almost becomes intriguing. The set design and the ambience are occasionally effective, and the cast really tries to deliver – even with a medicre script. Yet all too often the film is rushed with a few sequences that seem to be missing cuts, and dream sequences that are used in abundance. It feels as though the director, Floria Sigismondi, wanted to wrap this flick up faster than the audience will.
The story truly begins once we are introduced to Davis’ Kate. And you know what? For a good portion of this film, she is more than enough to bring a bit of heart to this familiar fable. In fact, the performances are strong all around. Finn Wolfhard, fresh off his fantastic work in IT, gives a creepy – and VERY occasionally sympathetic – show. And then there is Brooklyn Prince who is absolutely charming as a young girl who perhaps hides a few secrets herself. Had the script been a bit stronger, and a bit of time and care taken to really explore this dysfunctional family trapped in a ghost story, this could’ve been a far better viewing experience. Although, as good as Davis is, it’s a bit frustrating that her character doesn’t just up and leave, especially since she has ample opportunity to do so. After awhile, the loyalty she had for taking care of the young girl felt extremely forced.
One aspect of the film is the choice to set it in the year 1994. We know this because early on we hear on the television the news about the death of Kurt Cobain. The reason for this? Perhaps it was due to his death being suicide, and the film dealing with Kate’s mother being mentally ill? If that was the point, it wasn’t even remotely clear. The relationship that Kate shares with her sick mother is so sloppily handled that you nearly forget that it’s a part of the plot early on. Then when it does come up, it’s plodding and drags the scares down into a cliched and uninspired story we’ve seen done far better in many other ghost stories.
It’s really a shame. There’s something here that could’ve made this a solid and occasionally scary chiller. If only they weren’t so rushed, had a bit more faith in the source material, and maybe even an actual ending and not the drivel they present. There’s certainly room in today’s climate to do a smart and faithful retelling – even when it’s set in the 90’s – without sacrificing character, story and genuine scares. Instead, THE TURNING has no idea how to finish what it started, much like the beginning, it’s rushed and chaotic without being interesting. However, if you have a movie pass, or just want to kill an hour and a half, at least you get a cast worthy of your time – especially Ms. Davis who does as much as she can with this script. Just be prepared for unanswered questions, a lazy ending, and weird dream sequences that become annoyingly distracting.