The Turning – 2020

Director Floria Sigismondi
Screenplay Carey W. Hayes, Chad Hayes based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Starring Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Joely Richardson, Barbara Marten

There’s a good story at the heart of The Turning. It’s based on a source that has been attempted several times and within months of another version produced by Mike Flanagan. This time, the story is brought to 1994, beginning with news of Kurt Cobain’s death. There is a momentary flash of a picture of the depressed rock star on the screen that we end up seeing later on the wall of Miles Fairchild’s (Wolfhard) room. The protagonist, Kate (Davis) buys him a copy of an album by Hole. Whatever we’re supposed to glean from this, I am not sure. Sigismondi directed a series of music videos at the time, as well the feature The Runaways. By guessing, I would surmise she just likes him and possibly knew the troubled troubadour and his widow. If one wanted to, they might surmise that Miles’ behaviour in the film is a direct correlation to that of Cobain. The singer was known to torture animals and human beings, often because people felt he was a reflection of his own inner torment.

The story starts out with the teacher of young Flora Fairchild (Prince) rushing away from the estate where she lives with the two parentless children and their housekeeper Ms. Grose (Marten) in the middle of the night. She makes it almost through the gate, when she is accosted, never to be seen alive again.

Enter Kate, who decides to leave her teaching job in order to take over the tutelage of young Flora. Before heading to her job, we see her visit her mother, who is in an institution painting from inside of an empty pool. Again, this might mean something, but to me it means the institute is not using that pool. Her Mom says something creepy, hands her a decent painting of herself, then Kate is on her way.

At the Fairchild estate, we have an introduction to the housekeeper and the young girl. Flora shows Kate around the house, tells her about a wing of the house that she doesn’t go into then it’s time for bed. Then the spooky stuff starts happening. The sightings, relying mostly on reflections, start occurring with a regularity it soon loses its novelty.

Miles shows up shortly after, having been kicked out of school. He is alternately sweet and then quite dangerous. He begins to have an effect that is distracting to Flora and completely shocks the world within which Kate exists.

This story gives glimpses enough of the story to help us recognize that it’s from the source. It misses some crucial elements in order to provide a few more jump scares than we’re allowed in the original.

Davis’ performance is mixed. She doesn’t have the range to go from stoic to frightened as the material provided. Prince and Wolfhard do a decent job with their own roles. The story only has two fully developed acts, however.

The third act is turned on its ear. We get what seems to be heading for an ending, then an abrupt turn. We then see the story revert and we realize a trap has been sprung. Some might find intrigue in this type of ending, were it not for the lack of substance leading up to the end. The story is supposed to be about what the kids are experiencing. Instead we see a variation on the “kid of crazy” theme. Okay, now what?

There isn’t enough here to qualify for halfway satisfying. If they had pushed a little harder to complete the circle, maybe. Not this. This is an incomplete scare handed off into thin air.

(** out of *****)

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