Updated: Jun 2, 2020
The film tries desperately to be as high brow as the source material but ends up a muddled mess.
By Gene Wickham, Staff Writer
More of a psychological study than a ghost story, “The Turning” creates a psychosexual foundation for a tedious maze of undeveloped plot points which fails to pay off.
Henry James’ 1898 novella “The Turn Of The Screw” can be considered a blueprint for supernatural movies , most notably “The Innocents” in 1961 and “The Others” in 2001. The elements from the novel are there to be exploited but the direction “The Turning” takes becomes inconsistent and unclear.
The story follows Kate, a fragile child care worker played by Mackenzie Davis (“The Martian,” “Blade Runner 2049”), who leaves Seattle and her mentally impaired mother to work as a nanny at a remote mansion in Maine.
After meeting the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, her young ward Flora and Flora’s brother Miles, Kate begins to suspect the sheltered children and creepy house are hiding a supernatural evil.
Davis delivers a generally sympathetic but mundane performance as Kate, a cautious woman with implied mental baggage.
The two younger actors, Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things,” “It”) and Brooklynn Prince (“Lego Movie 2,” “Angry Birds 2”), do a commendable job as two sheltered siblings with the dark sexual and supernatural sources given them to work with.
For some reason the timeline revolves around the early 1990s after the suicide of Kurt Cobain Music from his wife, Courtney Love, along with other grunge-alternative rock bands, permeate the film. The film’s original soundtrack is adequate, but not memorable.
Many of the film’s elements feel incongruous. For example, the film is introduced by a scene where Kate is trying to escape the mansion. Then the story flashbacks to Seattle weeks earlier when Kate decides to take the nanny position. However, the story never syncs back with the original opening teaser, leaving viewers to wonder why it was put there in the first place.
Everything on screen is visually appealing from the locations, to the actors, to the dark creepy photography. However, like Disney’s Haunted House, the moments fail to add up to a compelling and clear narrative.
Director Floria Sigismondi exhibits a flair for mood and nuance. As a photographer and music video creator, she has also directed episodes of several notable cable series including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Daredevil’. Her perspective on visuals is her main strength, but sustaining a lengthy dramatic consistency is not one of her strong suits.
The original title from the novel “Turn of the Screw,” is supposed to reflect the tightening pressure the story exudes as the narrative progresses. This modern version leans more to jarring imagery than psychological depth. The flow of the story loses its direction and basically leaves viewers lost and confused.
Prepare to do a little mental work here if you are looking for a compelling ghost story.