“The Turning” stars Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, and Joely Richardson. Released on January 24, 2020, the film is about a nanny who discovers many dark secrets when she is assigned to take care of two orphans.
The film is directed by Floria Sigismondi, who also directed “The Runaways”, and it is based on the 1898 horror novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. We’re now heading back into horror territory this weekend with a film that will probably force us to leave the lights on and look at our children more closely. This film got me a bit cautious for specific reasons. One of those reasons is that I wasn’t too impressed with the last couple of horror films we got a while ago. Another reason is…well, it’s another horror movie that’s released in January. How else am I supposed to say about that? Described as a passion project for visionary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, the film went through two phases of production. It was originally going to be called “Haunted”, and it was going to be helmed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo with Alfre Woodard and Rose Leslie set to star. Unfortunately, Spielberg pulled the plug on the project five weeks before shooting began due to some creative differences with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. The second phase of production is the one that we got now. This marks the first feature film that music video director Floria Sigismondi is helming since she made her directorial debut with “The Runaways” a decade ago. I have not watched that film yet, but I heard some decent things about it. The reason for that long delay in-between her two feature films? Music videos, commercials, and television. Now that I got that brief history lesson out of the way, let’s see if the film is as scary as the ghost story it’s based on.
The story follows Kate Mandell (Davis), a young woman who is hired to look after two kids, Flora (Prince) and Miles (Wolfhard), in a mysterious mansion when their parents died in an accident. As Kate struggles to make friends with these children, she soon comes across a terrifying secret that haunts not just the house, but the kids as well. In short, this is another film that deals with the supernatural and some creepy children. It is also another take on Henry James’ gothic horror story that has got readers talking for many years. There are other versions of the source material that came before this one, but since I haven’t seen those adaptations myself, I will be looking at “The Turning” as its own film. Starting with the positives, I will give the film some credit for its setting and the dark tone. The set designs had a sense of dread that gave off an unsettling feeling to its gothic-like atmosphere. It’s definitely creepy, but sadly, it wasn’t enough to leave a lasting impression for me. I’ll explain more on that later on. The performances from the cast were passable at best, especially Mackenzie Davis as Kate. Both Wolfhard and Prince made their efforts known in their roles as the two children that Kate is looking after. I also have to admit that Prince’s performance was simply adorable. She's the main highlight of the film, in my opinion. As for everything else, it’s exactly what I was expecting. This is a fright-less and puzzling atmospheric experience that fails to capitalize on its haunting story. Not only that, but it is also filled with plenty of dumb and cliched moments that were as irritating as the narrative choices in “The Rise of Skywalker”, and the characters themselves weren’t developed enough to make these situations believable. The film also had some jump scares that did try to generate some scares unlike the latest “Grudge” film that came out a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, they all came off as generic and somehow silly. But the biggest offender for me out of all of the flaws that I already mentioned was the ending. Holy bananas. If you guys thought the ending from “The Devil Inside” was horrible, just you wait until you see this pathetic excuse for an ending…or don’t, that’s entirely up to you. I’m not going to tell you what really happened because spoilers, but I will tell you this: It is one of the worst endings I have ever seen in a horror film. It’s abrupt, it’s poorly-executed, and it provided no sense of closure whatsoever. The film’s script was written by Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes, the same people that wrote “The Conjuring” and its sequel, so for them to go from a highly successful horror franchise to a bland scare-less project like this has to be one of the biggest head-scratchers I’ve ever witnessed.
Overall, “The Turning” was able to turn my head around for all of the wrong reasons. Floria Sigismondi’s second directorial effort isn’t as painfully dull as “The Grudge” reboot, but it’s still a poorly-handled and derivative mess that’s neither scary or clever enough to please its horror audience. Despite the cast’s efforts to make it watchable and its haunting atmosphere, the film wasn’t able to handle the source material with care due to its muddling plot, forgettable scares, mediocre characters, a weak script, and its infuriating ending. This isn’t a good way to start off the new decade in terms of the horror genre. We already got three terrible horror movies this year, and we’re not even in February yet. Sheesh, now I’m starting to worry about the other horror films that are coming out in the near future. I really hope that this doesn’t become a trend for the rest of the year.