January 24, 2020 The Turning (Movie Review)
Some stories inspire such imagination that they are fated to be retold and reimagined countless times. The Turn of the Screw by author Henry James in one such tale, now brought to screen once again in the form of The Turning, a modern adaptation from Director Floria Sigismondi (Daredevil series, The Handmaid’s Tale series). Set to release in theaters January 24th via Universal Pictures, The Turning stars Mackenzie Davis (The Martian 2015, Halt and Catch Fire series) Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things series, It 2017), and Brooklyn Price (The Angry Birds Movie 2 2019, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part 2019) in this contemporary Horror film stacked with striking visuals and a killer soundtrack.
When Kate (Davis) is hired as a governess for Flora (show-stealing Price) after the death of her parents, Kate realizes that the job is not as simple as it sounds. Locked away in a secluded mansion, Flora and her brooding older brother Miles (Wolfhard) are all that remain of the “thoroughbred” Fairchild family. Kate, in her efforts to tutor Flora and rein in Miles, uncovers shocking information about the children’s previous governess and learns that this home might be hiding even more ghastly secrets.
The Turning certainly has all the trappings of your standard Horror film. Haunted house, creepy children, dark corridors, dolls? Check and check. However, in spite of excellent performances all around, the film never quite figures out what it wants to say. There are a few moments of tension sprinkled in, but The Turning seems held back by its PG-13 rating and stunted 94 minute runtime. The attempts at scares never crescendo into something truly frightening, and the story points, no matter how intriguing, fall just short of connecting. The final fifteen minutes will divide audiences and leave much up to interpretation—like the source material—but the same liberties do not apply to both literature and film. As reality unravels around Kate, far more questions are asked than answered, though that may not be enough to keep audiences interested.
Modernizing a 19th century classic could prove a challenge, but Sigismondi and Writers Carey W. Hayes (House of Wax 2005, The Conjuring 2013) and Chad Hayes (The Reaping 2007, The Crucifixion 2017) deftly straddle the centuries, bringing this tale into the ‘90s while still making it feel trapped in time. The few modernizations are not enough to keep Kate from being isolated from the outside world as the house comes to shambling life around her. The massive manor, filled with forbidden corridors, mannequins made to look like dead relatives, and creepy wallpaper, acts like a character in itself. Brought to life by smart camera angles, vivid lighting, and and a sharp score, the mist-covered manor is film’s backbone. Even when the story falters, the setting itself keeps viewers grounded in Sigismondi’s unwinding reality.
While the film itself does not break any new ground, the soundtrack certainly does. That comes as no surprise considering Sigismondi’s storied history as the director of music videos for the likes of Marilyn Manson, Muse, and David Bowie to name just a few. For The Turning, Sigismondi joined up with Producers/Musicians Lawrence Rothman and Yves Rothman to craft a chilling soundscape by courting contemporary artists like Mitski, Cherry Glazzer, Warpaint, and Soccer Mommy to name just a few. Oh, and Courtney Love and Kim Gordon, too. Sigismondi asked each of these artists to create their own version of ’90s-inspired Grunge/Alternative offerings for the film, and many play a pivotal part in setting tone and place. If nothing else, be sure to check out the soundtrack when it releases along with the film.
Despite falling prey to a few Horror cliches and story hiccups, Sigismondi does an excellent job at creating an immersive experience with enough unique touches to make The Turning worth your time. Price, Davis, and Wolfhard all shine in their roles, elevating The Turning just above your typical January Horror offering. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives The Turning 3 out of 5 stars.