The Turning (directed by Floria Sigismondi and written by Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, and based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James) is an unfortunately standard and underwhelming horror film about a young woman who becomes the live-in nanny for two orphaned children in a large spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere. The Turning’s plot, most of the acting, and quite a bit of the script are nearly unbearable at points, but thankfully the film is saved (if only slightly) by the lovely set design. (DLH: 2.5/5)
Review by FF2 Media Associate Dayna Hagewood
At the beginning of The Turning, we see the very end of one woman’s experience at the eerie and looming mansion as she races to her car. She is frantic, dressed in her pajamas, and clearly fearing for her life as she attempts to escape through the massive property’s heavy gates.
Shortly after this sneak-preview of what is likely to come again, we meet Kate (Mackenzie Davis), who has quit her job as a teacher to become the governess for the orphaned children at the aforementioned estate. Kate mentions to her roommate that she wants to “make a difference” and that it is difficult to grow up without parents. Come to find out, Kate seems to have grown up without standard parents as well. Before she heads off to the mansion, she stops to say goodbye to her mother, who lives in an assisted living facility and paints all day. She gives Kate a painting to “keep her warm” before she heads off to the spooky mansion.
There are many hints that Kate’s stay won’t be very pleasant. When Kate first enters the property to look for the woman that hired her, we instantly notice a small fountain splattered with red and lined with disembodied doll heads. Shortly after this, Kate wanders into the stable to look for Flora, played by the young Brooklynn Prince, only to be startled by every creaky barn noise until Flora jumps out to greet her. When Flora and Kate get back to the house and start exploring, Flora gently mentions that there is an entire side of the house that she doesn’t enter.
When Flora’s brother Miles (played by Finn Wolfhard) returns home from boarding school suspiciously early and seemingly in the middle of the night, things begin to get much more complicated and creepy for Kate, who attempts to balance the strange happenings with school lessons for Flora.
With this, The Turning kicks off a confusing, muddled, and frankly painful plot full of possible ghosts, family mystery, and cliché horror imagery (dolls, mirrors, antlers, flashlights in the dark). Mackenzie Davis, unfortunately, doesn’t get to do much but scream and look shocked, and Finn Wolfhard’s character is single-faceted, angsty, and impossibly inconsistent. The Turning could have benefitted strongly from a deeper look at these characters considering Flora is the most interesting and dynamic character of all.
Aside from the usual horror pitfalls, The Turning seems to deny commitment at every turn. It hardly focuses on one element of the story without shifting awkwardly and abruptly to something else entirely. The ending is almost too awful to mention, as The Turning seems to conclude without any satisfying climax or resolution. The mere act of the credits rolling feels like a massive mistake rather than the ending of anything meaningful. While an abrupt ending can often be an amazing stylistic choice, it comes off as sloppy and rushed in The Turning.
Something must absolutely be said, however, for the set design. The mansion is beautiful and the grounds expansive. Many of the shots within these spaces are breathtaking. The antiquity of the mansion is often contrasted against the sharp colors of Kate’s 90s clothing and is as visually pleasing as it is contradictory. I could watch a silent camera pan around this set for hours and not get tired of looking at it.
Other than that, I was mostly disappointed with The Turning. It had great potential to defy some of the usual issues present in horror films but instead relies on a “who knows what is even real” approach that isn’t executed properly at all. Perhaps with a better script, this decent cast of actors could have helped it move along. Unfortunately, the end result is something you could really pass on altogether unless you like heavy drapes and claw foot bathtubs as much as I do.
© Dayna Hagewood (01/27/2020) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Miles (played by Finn Wolfhard)
Top Photo: A shocked Kate (played by Mackenzie Davis)
Middle Photo: Another shocked Kate and Flora (played by Brooklynn Prince)
Bottom Photo: Kate and Miles
Photo Credits: IMDB USA 2020
Does The Turning pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
Yes, in many different scenes. Kate frequently talks to Flora about her life, her troubles, and her school lessons. Kate also speaks with the housekeeper about the children and the history of the house as well as calling her roommate to talk about her difficulties at the estate.