Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
Premise: A loose adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. A young woman (Mackenzie Davis) is hired to be the governess of two children whose parents have died. Supernatural phenomena begin happening around the house.
What Works: The Turning has some impressive production design. The story is set in an old, decrepit manor and the hallways and rooms have a spooky feel with lots of great art direction. The costumes are also well selected but in a way that is mostly subtle; the backgrounds are often brown and grey while the actors are dressed in muted contrasting colors. They stand out against their surroundings while also matching the drab tone of the movie. The film is also well photographed. Supernatural movies call for a dim lighting scheme and some of these pictures, like The Conjuring spinoffs, tend to look murky. The Turning sets the mood with some effective lighting and the action is clear even when it is quite dark.
What Doesn’t: The Turning is an attempt to modernize Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw. The setting is moved ahead a century from the 1890s to the 1990s, the governess of the book was quite conservative and obsessed with propriety whereas her filmic equivalent is a modern woman with contemporary sensibilities, and the supernatural elements of the book were subtle but in this movie they are overt. The Turning only superficially resembles its source; the movie plays less like an adaptation of James’ novella and more like it was based on The Turn of the Screw Wikipedia summary. The alterations chip away at the essence of the story so the film is no longer germane to the original idea. There is nothing wrong with adaptors changing the source material, even in drastic ways, but the moviemakers of The Turning don’t replace the original elements with anything interesting. As a result, a lot of the movie does not make sense. Story elements that were a given in the 1890s don’t translate to the new setting. The filmmakers botch the supernatural element and the corruption of the children. Most detrimental, The Turning is never very frightening. It relies on a lot of scenarios and images of recent supernatural horror films but the haunting is convoluted and very little of the movie makes sense.
DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes.
Bottom Line: The Turning is a generic haunted house tale. An attempt to modernize The Turn of the Screw was probably doomed from the outset but matters aren’t helped by the clumsy storytelling and lack of frights.
Episode: #800 (May 10, 2020)