Review: The Turning

Year: 2020
Runtime:
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Writer: Carey W. Hayes, Chad Hayes (based on Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw.”)
Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Barbara Marten

By Kaiya Shunyata

Reboots and remakes seem to be a never-ending cycle within Hollywood, and it’s safe to say the trend is not going to go away soon. There are instances of shot-for-shot remakes (such as Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho”) and then inventive reimaginings such as Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria”. More than not, though, remakes seem to fall flat – especially in the horror genre. Based on Henry James’ classic novel “The Turn of the Screw,” Floria Sigismondi’s “The Turning,” (2020) begins with the striking image of a winding eye set to the beat of a clock. It quivers as the ticking gets louder, then finally with the sharpest tick, comes to a standstill as it stares at the viewer in fear. It’s a compelling opening which promises a twisted tale filled with striking imagery.

“The Turning” has a typical horror narrative: Kate (Mackenzie Davis), isn’t finding fulfilment with her teaching job, and decides to accept a remote job as a nanny. She arrives at her new place of employment – a stunning and sinister mansion – and begins to realize things are not quite normal here. Flora (a charismatic Brooklynn Prince) the youngest child, cannot leave the property, and Miles (Finn Wolfhard) is back home after a violent incident that occurred at his boarding school. Along with the children, a harsh Mrs Grose (Barbara Marten) haunts the hallways of the house with her disdain for Kate. As the film progresses, Flora becomes more of a mystery, and Miles becomes more of a tyrant – propelling Kate into madness. At the core of the film, is also the mystery of what happened to the children’s previous nanny, and their horse master – Quint – who’s memory taints the mansion and Miles.

thr turning
Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, and Brooklynn Prince in The Turning (2020) © Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

“The Turning” is a film that suffers from an uncertain vision. It feels as if this horror film doesn’t know what it wants to be: is it a story about toxic masculinity? a tale about repressed desire? or is it a mystery in line with the #MeToo movement?

The film starts off strong, as Kate begins to search for the truth about what happened to her predecessor, but then it becomes clear that “The Turning” is a film that suffers from an uncertain vision. It feels as if this horror film doesn’t know what it wants to be: is it a story about toxic masculinity? a tale about repressed desire? or is it a mystery in line with the #MeToo movement? All of these aspects are present within the film, but instead of playing with these intriguing threads, it casts them aside. There are incessant and berating jump scares, that for the first half of the film, happen so often it feels like you’re getting whiplash. Noises come from every which way, and in the end, there is nothing scary about them other than the obnoxious sound design. Then, towards the end of the film, it feels as if it’s not even attempting to scare the audience anymore, but rather purposely confuse and frustrate them.

the tunring mac
Mackenzie Davis in The Turning (2020) © Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Although it is only January, the final act of “The Turning”, is definitely going to be remembered as one of the most baffling cinematic decision of 2020 (and perhaps the decade). The film seems to be wrapping up and leading to what feels like victory: Kate has discovered what happened to the previous nanny and what has been influencing Miles’ psychosexual outbursts, and musters up a plan to leave the estate.

The Turning” is in no way all bad, though. David Ungaro’s cinematography is lush and vivid, which puts the film ahead in the ranks of many modern horror films.

As it appears it’s about to end, the film rears back and does a complete 180, presenting the audience with a shocking and honestly baffling scenario. Then, this new reality the audience is thrown into, is revealed to perhaps be something completely different from what the film was originally attempting. The whole third act is convoluted on its own, but to put the cherry on top, just when it seems like there might be an explanation for these baffling choices, the film abruptly cuts to black.

“The Turning” is in no way all bad, though. David Ungaro’s cinematography is lush and vivid, which puts the film ahead in the ranks of many modern horror films. Ungaro utilizes the vast expanse of the estate and turns it into a hunting beast with a mind of its own. There are particular stunning shots – all which take place outside on the grounds, and the underwater sequences are particularly striking.

the turn
Mackenzie Davis and Brooklynn Prince in The Turning (2020) © Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Along with Ungaro’s vision, comes the film’s soundtrack, which is stacked with names from Mitski to Alice Glass. The few tracks that are actually immersed within the film – such as Mitski’s “Cop Car,” which emulates the same vibe as Sound Garden’s “Black Hole Sun” – fully propel the film into a story about angst and desire. But again, the film falters here, and shies away from being a moody “period piece,” and succumbs to what feels like studio meddling. “The Turning” starts off as a promising reimagining of an old classic, as it weaves itself down a winding road of mystery. But, once that mystery is unravelled, instead of veering to either side of the winding road, the film comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying halt.

2.5 stars

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