Rating: PG-13 / Running Time: 1 hour and 34 minutes
“The Turning” is a film that leaves much to the imagination in its confusing and jumbled mess of a horror adaptation. Based on the novel “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, we follow a woman named Kate (Mackenzie Davis) who gets a job watching over a couple of children who lost their parents to a tragic car accident. As she becomes comfortable with her new live-in arrangements, she starts to notice something is off with these two kids and the gigantic mansion they reside in. Strange noises, frightening nightmares, and visions of a ghastly looking ghost put her mind and body into panic mode. Once she hears stories of the mysterious deaths that have befallen previous employers of the estate, she immediately fears that her life is in grave danger and that these kids are not so innocent after all.
Brooklynn Prince is such a gem in this film with her boundless energy and cute sassiness she brings to her character. She is turning into a young prodigy to watch over the next five to ten years. Finn Wolfhard displays the angst and darkness that subsides underneath the exterior weird vibe of this haunted setting. He and Prince represent the only shining hallmarks of the film. The character of Kate suffers from a lack of layers that would have helped the audience connect to her intense plight. There is nothing to really point out who she is as a character except that her dad died and her mother currently stays in a mental institution; none of this backstory allows an insight into her wants, needs, or desires which makes her story all the more unfulfilling. Ultimately, the cast is talented but gets the short end of the stick due to an abomination of a screenplay setting the blueprint.
If a story is structured well, it starts the viewer off with a general premise that is easy to follow while traveling through a series of events that will be capped off with a climax. This film decides to do it the hard way and produce a narrative that lacks consistency and relies cheap scare tactics and a confusing ending. Just when I thought I was seeing another generic haunted house film, the last 20 minutes stray far away from the original premise and result in a non-ending without resolution. We don’t get answers to questions such as: Are the kids operating under the control of spirits, is the main character going crazy, or is another entity responsible for the prevalence of terror surrounding the property? It is like a person starts to drink a glass of water that tastes like water until the last couple of gulps start to taste like vodka. A poor attempt at an ambiguous ending plays off like the writers of the film had written themselves into a corner and could not find the way out. This adaption of the novel got ahead of itself trying to put on a modern twist while lacking an ambitious vision. There is no jolt of excitement present in the moments that are supposed to live up to the horror name, every “scary” scene is nothing more than ghosts appearing out of nowhere or characters responding to strange noises all around the house. The film’s direction and editing are a step below average, as well, characterized by stuck in the mud pacing and no style to separate itself from any other run of the mill “haunting” film.
I caught the vibe of “The Conjuring” when the trailer of this film debuted and sure enough, I spotted out the familiar played-out tropes those films have used ad nauseam. No good times are to be had with this film and now it finds itself fading into the populated graveyard of mediocre January films. “The Turning” doesn’t know what it wants to accomplish as a horror experience and then expects the audience to put all the pieces together.
Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.