When Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw was published in 1898, it quickly became a staple in gothic horror that would go on to stand the test of time for its terrific prose and it’s chilling attention to detail. Since its release, the novella has become the subject of countless adaptions in radio dramas, movies, plays, television, and even a Broadway play back in 1950. So when Floria Sigismondi announced she would be directing a modern adaption (called The Turning), of the classic story it went without saying that expectations were high. Especially for those who’ve read the tome like yours truly.
As far as the plot goes The Turning stays faithful to James’ novella: A young women is hired as a governess for two orphaned children. But as the governess gets used to her duties and learns about the chilling past of some former employees, she becomes more and more convinced the grounds are haunted by a vicious spirit. And the strange behavior of the children certainly isn’t helping matters.
Since I already have a fondness for the novella I was particularly excited when the trailer finally dropped. Ultimately I was charmed and bedazzled by this movie. For the most part. To quote James himself, “The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless.” The Turning is a slickly directed, gorgeous take on an old story. Sigismondi takes the book’s title–which is a play on the phrase a turn of the screw–and makes it the core of her directorial technique. To turn the screw means to exert strong pressure on someone.
Sigismondi plays with lights and sounds to create an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere that only subsides during an inevitable jump scare; something that may or may not have originated from her brilliant yet unsettling work with Marilyn Mason.
The Turning offers plenty for one to feast their eyes upon. The grand estate of Bly Manor is something out of a Renaissance painting. The soundtrack was an unexpected perk, and the expertly picked cast offers nothing but stellar performances all around. Especially in the case of Finn Wolfhard who boldly displays his versatility as Miles, a textbook arrogant rich kid with behavior that only becomes more erratic throughout the film.
In an exclusive interview with Movie Bill, Sigismondi gave some insight into her casting the Stranger Things star, “…the pale skin and his black locks. I was like, ‘Whoa, he’s like a dark angel!’ There’s something really beautiful and innocent about him, the dark coloring of his hair and his dark eyes.”
Full disclosure, I really did enjoy The Turning, and as much as I wanted to come on here to give it nothing but a rave review it would be simply dishonest to not point out where it went wrong. The Turning unfortunately appears to bite off more than it can chew and it falls flat on its face in the final act with an abrupt ending that can only be described as lackluster at best. And anti-climactic at worst. It almost gives the impression that it’s incomplete and makes you wish they’d quit while they were ahead.
I get why critics are coming down so hard on The Turning. The ending really does spoil it. And while it can make for a frustrating watch, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and suggest it’s a movie of acquired taste. I insist you don’t let the scores sway you. It’s a watch worth tackling.
The Turning is now playing in theatres!
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Floria Sigismondi
Writer(s): Carey W. Hayes, Chad Hayes, Jade Bartlett
Stars: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, and Barbara Marten
Release: January 24th, 2020
Studio/ Production Co: DreamWorks