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Review: “The Turning” Reboots Iconic Horror Tale as Tepid Garbage

By Ciara Wardlow | Film | January 25, 2020 |

By Ciara Wardlow | Film | January 25, 2020 |


I have now presumably seen a horror movie called The Turning, only the 94-minute experience I was subjected to was not truly a horror movie in the way a child playing doctor does not actually possess a medical degree. Even the use of the term “movie” in this context feels debatable if you consider “movie” a term that implies the possession of a beginning, middle, and end that collectively form something in the general vicinity of a comprehensible plotline, which The Turning does not.

On the surface, The Turning is an adaptation of Henry James’ classic Gothic horror tale The Turn of the Screw with the original late Victorian setting swapped out for the mid-1990s, presumably to try to distance itself from the earlier 1961 Jack Clayton film adaptation The Innocents, which is sometimes regarded as one of the best Gothic horror films ever made, if not horror films period, for very good reason. If there was any other motivation for switching the setting, or for choosing this particular time period, the rationale was very much lost in translation as judging from this alone there is absolutely nothing from 1994 worth reviving.

The basic story goes like this: a plucky young teacher, Kate (Mackenzie Davis) takes a job as a live-in governess for blue-blooded orphans Flora (Brooklyn Prince) and Miles (Finn Wolfhard) who live in a creepy mansion slowly falling to ruin with only the sour-faced housekeeper Mrs. Grouse (Barbara Marten) for company. Kate takes the job because, in her words, “I want to make a difference, you know?” and apparently teaching two kids makes more of a difference than teaching an entire class. By the end of the runtime, this statement proves one of the most logical to be found in the entire film.

A few names are changed, but it’s pretty much The Turn of the Screw. Kate is given a certifiably insane mother for reasons that are no clearer at the end of the film than they are at the beginning. Perhaps because the ending of the original story, particularly as tweaked in The Innocents, is so iconic, The Turning changes that too, but in a way that is so astoundingly inane it defies comprehension. I won’t spoil it for you, but that is partly because it is so poorly done, I’m not quite certain what it was even trying to say. It renders itself practically spoiler-proof through its own ineptitude.

I hesitate to call The Turning bad because to do so would suggest the possibility that it might be fun, the way that terrible movies sometimes are. I’m all for a healthy appreciation of so-bad-it’s-good fare; I proudly recommend an experience like The Velocipastor to friends and colleagues. The Turning is not that kind of movie. It’s not good-bad or even rubbernecking-at-a-car-crash bad. It’s an utter waste. Director Floria Sigismondi can and has done better than this, as have twin screenwriting duo Chad and Carey Hayes. It feels wrong to even try to speak to the performances; the whole film is so tired and confused it makes everyone in it seem warped and incoherent, like a reflection in a particularly unflattering funhouse mirror.

The Turning is a waste of the time and abilities of all involved; don’t let it waste your time too. Retelling a story that’s already been told incredibly well more often than not feels like a hollow study in futility, but in the case of The Turning the inanity of the retelling brings things to a whole new level of pointlessness. Let’s just all go watch The Innocents and pretend this never happened.

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Ciara is one of Pajiba's film critics. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: Universal Pictures