Henry James’ 1898 novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’ has been the subject of several cinematic adaptations and interpretations. The most notable of these was Jack Clayton’s exquisite and unparalleled The Innocents in 1961, and now we have another, The Turning, directed by Floria Sigismondi. With The Turning, Sigismondi attempts to lace together classic gothic horror with themes of domestic violence, mental health and the corruption of innocence. However, despite some redeeming qualities, the result is a decidedly dull affair.
Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) is looking for a new and exciting job role when she spots an opening for a live-in carer and teacher for the Fairchild family. Mandell quickly applies, leaving her mentally-ill artist mother (Joely Richardson) in the process. On arrival at the sprawling estate (more like an English manor house), Kate receives a cold welcome from Mrs Grose (Barbara Marten), who appears to harbour her own secrets under a cloak of tradition and routine.
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However, on meeting young Flora (Brooklynn Prince), Kate finds her initial doubts and concerns eased as the young girl welcomes her into the house. But when Flora’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) suddenly returns home from boarding school, the atmosphere begins to change as he becomes increasingly challenging and predatory. Meanwhile, dangerous secrets haunt the family’s past as the manor’s walls close in on all those held inside.
The Turning begins by dutifully following the narrative trail of the Henry James novella. However, this is soon replaced by a generic need to provide jump scares, and in doing so, the simmering tension and mystery are quickly lost. However, there is a brave attempt to unpick further the misogyny and violence held in the James novella through Miles. Here Wolfhard’s character embodies a range of sexually predatory behaviours alongside deep-seated anger. However, these themes are again left in the shadows by the need for popcorn horror.
But the real problem lies in an ending that feels randomly tacked onto the main narrative as the director and writers try to offer us something new. While this is commendable, unfortunately, we get a ludicrous and bizarre finale that strips away any redeeming qualities the film had in its opening two acts.
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince