Sunday, January 26

The Turning Review

The Turning
Dir: Floria Sigismondi
Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Brooklyn Prince, Finn Wolfhard, Barbara Marten, and Joely Richardson

Author Henry James fashioned one of the greatest horror novella’s way back in 1898 with “The Turn of the Screw”. This story, a haunting tale surrounded by dubious situations involving young children and questionable mental states, has been a key foundation of influence for many ghost stories but perhaps the best appreciation for the source material is the brilliant 1961 adaptation from Jack Clayton, “The Innocents”. 

“The Turning”, from director Floria Sigismondi who has generated some impressive television and music video work throughout her career, takes aim at a modern update of Henry James’ haunting tale. With actress Mackenzie Davis taking the lead, with young actors Brooklyn Prince and Finn Wolfhard supplying ample amounts of creepy-kid-vibes, “The Turning” has good technical style but it, unfortunately, lacks the narrative substance to make the thrills and chills more impactful.

The story, which takes place in the 1990s, follows a young governess named Kate (Mackenzie Davis) who is hired to care for a young girl named Flora (Brooklyn Prince) who lives on an isolated estate with her housekeeper (Barbara Marten). Kate and Flora immediately build a sweet connection, but their relationship is disrupted by the arrival of Flora’s teenaged brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) who quickly changes the dynamic in the house. Things quickly turn more sinister when Kate begins to suspect evil forces at work with the children.

There is a great amount of skill coordinated into the style and design of the film. The cinematography nicely accommodates the precarious emotions Kate is having, especially when she slowly transitions from hopeful to somewhat unhinged, adding a color scheme that changes from vivid and bold to murky and desaturated. It’s the best element that this film incorporates.

It’s unfortunate that the style cannot assist the unremarkable narrative which takes the general story shifts and character motivations from Henry James’ novel and dilutes them, sometimes completely pollutes them, with unnecessary information that creates a story without much to figure out. In particular, Kate’s character is provided a very fleshed out backstory which takes much of the ambiguity out of her journey. To explain more about this aspect would be to spoil what the filmmakers are trying desperately to hide throughout the film. 

The performances from the young actors are fun to watch, particularly Finn Wolfhard who plays the moody teenager with frustrating, very much intended, results. Mackenzie Davis does her best to keep the character interesting, but the narrative doesn’t provide the subtlety to do the part more justice. Still, her emotional transition is interesting and displays the talent that Ms. Davis could have provided to better character design. 

“The Turning” has a decent understanding of the style needed to make a horror story look and feel alive, unfortunately, it’s missing the substance necessary to keep its horror heart beating beyond the familiar elements taking shape here.

Monte’s Rating
1.75 out of 5.00

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