Floria Sigismondi takes the helm on her second feature-length film to adapt the 1898 ghost story penned by Henry James entitled, “The Turn of the Screw” for the umpteenth time. “The Turning” rehashes the same tired story we have seen countless times before. You think the crew would have learned from the shortcomings of the previous attempts, but of course, they didn’t, instead, we are fed an awfully boring film that lasts far too long for its own good. “The Turning” is about as bland as a film can possibly get, from its generic overuse of poor jump scares to infuriating characters trapped in a by numbers the plot, there is hardly anything of substance going on throughout the entire hour and forty-minute runtime. The film fails to entertain in any capacity as it is neither scary nor funny (usually comedy can be siphoned out of bad horror films, but sadly not here) which leaves the film in a space of misery that will have audiences checking their watches every other minute.
“The Turning” features a plot that is clearly inspired by the ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw” but with some minor detours. After the live-in-tutor of the Fairchild Residence is said to have gone missing, Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) decides to take the job as the new governess of the estate. After saying a final goodbye to her logical roommate Rose (Kim Adis) and delusional mother Darla (Joely Richardson), Kate heads off to the Fairchild estate. Upon her arrival, things already begin to appear strange for our main protagonist including her first meeting with the children’s caretaker, Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), who instantly expresses her doubts in Kate’s abilities. Mrs. Grose gives Kate a full tour of the house getting her accustomed to the living quarters. Along the way, Kate runs into Flora Fairchild (Brooklynn Prince) and the two quickly become acquainted with one another. As Kate prepares to spend her first night in the estate, she hears a disturbance coming from the East Wing (an area she was barred from seeing) which prompts her to get up and investigate. Kate winds up discovering Miles Fairchild (Finn Wolfhard), Flora’s brother who was supposed to be attending boarding school at the time. With all of the characters introduced, the story commences as Kate slowly descends down a well of madness witnessing numerous paranormal sightings as she becomes haunted by the unruly spirits of the Fairchild estate with no help from the Fairchild family.
“The Turning” is a film that fails on almost every level, but Carey and Chad Hayes are the culprits that deserve the brunt of the blame. These two unified to write an utterly terrible script that will have you shaking your head and rolling your eyes with every scene that unfolds on screen. Let us start with character motivations (spoiler, there are none). Kate is a paper-thin protagonist that has no incentive of taking the governess job, yet she still does because “she’s a good person”, I guess? Her estranged mother is put on display like a stage clown as a quick way for the writers to vaguely hint at the fact that maybe Kate’s family suffers from a delusional disorder. However, as the film progresses Kate’s character only becomes worse. Despite seeing several ghosts and being tormented by every resident of the Fairchild estate, Kate refuses to leave and go back to her normal life; and when she escapes past the estate’s gates and calls her friend Rose to vent about the misfortunate events that have transpired, she still drives back to the estate and attempts to mend everything with the family. No matter how strange and demented the kids are, or how many spirits she sees, or even the sound advice she receives from her roommate, Kate is determined to remain hostage in the estate because of a promise she made within the first day of meeting a little girl she knows nothing about. I am sorry, but if a film expects me to take it seriously while genuinely caring for the characters on screen, it is impossible to achieve when the characters are going out of their way to do things no sane human would do. Not to mention the fact that the film is set in the 20th century but only loosely resembles it with the appearance of some cars and cassettes (a waste).
In spite of the film’s shortcomings, if I must point out some positives, they would be directed at Leonie Prendergast who was the lead costumer designer on the film and Paki Smith who acted as the film’s lead production designer. Prendergast manages to create an extremely unique style for every character at the Fairchild residence. Kate leaps off of the screen in her bold outfits as they bleed with rich color that stands in stark opposition to Mrs. Grose’s bleak and dull color palette of several shades of grey. From top to bottom, everyone’s attire feels like something classic (from an era long ago) while simultaneously infusing a natural modern look that creates a distinct visual flavor that is rarely seen. The makeup crew should also be recognized alongside Prendergast because as the film moves forward, we not only emotionally witness Kate spiral out of control, but we see her physical appearance heavily alter as her hair and makeup become more wild and messy with every passing day. Another facet of the film that adds something positive to the experience is surprisingly the Fairchild estate itself. The setting by no means is as fascinating as the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” or even the Mos Eisley cantina from “Star Wars: A New Hope”, but it is an interesting location that is explored and shown off intentionally to get the audience to remember it’s distinct appearance. A heavy fog rolls over the hedge maze, the deep blue pool shimmers under the night sky, the massive oval-shaped pond is flooded with fish; all of these key locations are presented to give the estate some character. Unfortunately, most of these locals are used once or twice with little to no payoff (I would suggest you read the last paragraph to find why this was the case).
Sigismondi’s talent behind the camera is on display throughout most of “The Turning” as she utilizes the camera in unique ways with some perspectives making it seem as though we are the ghouls watching over our prey from a distance. Sigismondi can visually craft a creepy ghost story, but that is about it. “The Turning” is a film with decent visuals that can in no way move beyond its myriad of dreadful issues. From dense and uninspired characters to a botched script with no soul, the film does absolutely nothing to earn its price of admission as most of your time will be spent thinking about what you’ll be eating afterward. “The Turning” will surely melt your brain as it unceremoniously crawls to the finish line while slowly devolving into a bad episode of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?”. However, for a “horror” film in January, what could I have possibly expected?