A modern take on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw is certainly an interesting idea, sadly, the makers of this film failed to provide anything interesting to the proceedings. Worse is the fact that not only does the film fail to tell a comprehensible story but it’s also not all that scary.
The plot of The Turning follows the original novella with Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) taking the job as a live-in tutor at Bly Manor after the previous governess, Miss Jessel (Denna Thomsen), had supposedly run off — us having witnessed her being attacked while trying to flee the house know this to be untrue — and her young charge is nine-year-old Flora Fairchild (Brooklynn Prince), a precocious child who seems inexplicably terrified about leaving the grounds. Also in the house is the family’s housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten) who will spout such nonsense as, “The children are very special Kate. They’re thoroughbreds.” Finally, we have Flora’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) who arrives home after being expelled from his boarding school for trying to strangle a classmate. Unfortunately for Kate, those are just the “living” residents of Bly Manor and soon she is being plagued by visions of Miss Jessel and the family’s former riding instructor, and resident sexual predator, Quint (Niall Greig Fulton), who died shortly after Miss Jessel’s disappearance. The movie tries to keep the audience guessing as to what is real and what is not, which was an important element of the novella, but the script for The Turning is interested in nothing more than cheap jump scares.
Warning Signs That You May Be In a Horror Movie:
• You are staying in a large and spooky house.
• If one or more of the previous staff has died or disappeared.
• The housekeeper is a little off-putting and creepy.
• Outside, there is a massive hedge maze.
• There is a child with a tendency towards disturbing drawings.
• The place is littered with creepy dolls or mannequins or both.
• Finn Wolfhard is nearby and seemingly nonplussed by the ghostly events.
When watching The Turning, it’s clear that director Floria Sigismondi has a lot of talent when it comes to creating a sense of dread and foreboding, the visuals and camerawork are all quite solid, but on the storytelling side of things, she drops the ball big-time. A key ingredient to a horror film is getting the audience to sympathize with the protagonist but at no time did I have feelings one way or the other when it came to Kate’s survival as we are given no plausible reason for why she doesn’t bail on this mansion of horror other than her pinky-swear to a nine-year-old girl.
We get all the standard horror clichés that Floria Sigismondi trots out as if on some kind of time table; ghostly images are seen in a mirror, spectral footprints lead our heroine into danger and loud inexplicable noises abound along dark hallways. If the walls dripped blood and a voice boomed, “GET OUT” you couldn’t have gotten more clear signs that it’d be best to pack up your shit and go. Now, the film is trying to make the viewer wonder if all these ghostly shenanigans are due to Kate having mental issues, as was the case in the original novella, but this film ladles on so many “It was only a dream” moments that it causes any sensible person to lose interest in our heroine’s plight. That the film comes to an abrupt ending, with no clear answers to anything, leaving anyone who managed to sit through until the very end rather pissed off.
Updating a hundred-year-old story is going to present some problems as society and social standards have changed a tad over the years, but director Floria Sigismondi doesn’t seem to bother to even try and alter the subject matter in a way that makes sense. A key example of this is the disappearance of the former governess Miss Jessel, because in the 21st Century, if a young woman suddenly vanished there would be many people asking questions, or are we to believe she had no friends or family to be concerned over her sudden disappearance? In the 1800s, I can see authorities not being too concerned with a missing girl, but in the 21st Century, this would not fly. They could have easily included a line of dialogue mentioning an ongoing investigation or had a policeman drop by to ask a question or two, but nope, that would imply the writers knew what they were doing.
Of course, one of the biggest criticisms that can be levelled at The Turning is that it simply fails at being scary, which is not a good thing for a horror film, but most importantly is the fact that it also failed at making any goddamn sense. A movie doesn’t have to blatantly spell out things for the cheap seats but it also can’t just roll the end credits without coming up with an ending at all. I hope Floria Sigismondi gets another shot at a feature film because she does show some talent behind the camera, she just needs to attach her skills to a better script.
The Turning (2020)
Movie Rank - 3.5/10
There have been numerous adaptations of “The Turn of the Screw” – the 1961 film The Innocents being an excellent version of the Henry James novella – but Floria Sigismondi’s The Turning is simply a mess dressed up as an atmospheric ghost story.