DIRECTOR: FLORIA SIGISMONDI | SCREENPLAY: CAREY W. HAYES, CHAD HAYES | STARRING: MACKENZIE DAVIS, FINN WOLFHARD, BROOKLYNN PRINCE, JOELY RICHARDSON | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The Turning is the most recent adaptation of the classic 1898 Henry James’ horror novella, The Turn of the Screw. The original is widely regarded as a cornerstone of modern suspense horror, written in a self-contained way so that the reader always comes away with something new from the text. It’s been successfully adapted multiple times since its publication, but sadly this latest version, directed by Floria Sigismondi is a mess. 2020’s The Turning is set in 1992 (presumably so mobile phones aren’t a thing); Mackenzie Davis plays Kate, a young woman hired to be the live-in tutor for a creepy little girl, Flora Fairchild (played superbly by The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince). Flora lives in a huge mansion with only the equally creepy caretaker, Mrs Grose (Marten ). When Flora’s older brother, a damaged and disturbed child called Miles (Wolfhard), returns from boarding school, Kate finds herself terrorised by him and slowly uncovers the dark secrets of the house.
All of this makes the movie a lot more interesting than it actually is. Though the plot is quite thin, there’s more than enough there to make a solid story, and it’s been done before. Alas, the director overly relies on ramping up the volume on the soundtrack and hitting the viewer with jump-scares and double bluffs. Every possible twist can be seen miles ahead, and as a result, it’s almost comical at times. If you’ve ever seen a horror movie, you can easily predict what the next shock will be, making the whole thing a waste of time.
The performances are very strong. Mackenzie Davis gives it her all as a woman going slowly mad, making the best out of a weak script and insipid direction. Finn Wolfhard, better known for his work in Stranger Things, is almost unrecognisable in this as an angry child with too much entitlement. The movie wobbles along under its own weight for the most part, only managing to deliver boring surprises and under-cooked special effects.
There’s an attempt to emulate the source material by making certain elements of the plot obscure and unsure. We are meant to leave this feature with a vague sense of unease, unsure of what has actually happened and pondering the possibility of the supernatural. Instead, we get this confused mess. It feels like they couldn’t decide on an ending and threw as many as they could against the wall to see what sticks.
The Turning is a big bundle of wasted potential. There are elements all the way along of what this simple horror film could have been, had it stuck to one path. Instead, we get a desperate collection of the usual cheap tricks from any given scary movie made in the last thirty years. Alas, the most disturbing thing about this feature is the realisation you’re never getting the time you spent watching it back.