On the Turning Away

Directed by Floria Sigismondi

Starring Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince

Rated PG-13

Released January 24th, 2020

The Turning is not a thrilling, frightening or compelling film. But it features a talented cast. Mackenzie Davis, fresh off of two very different performances in Tully and Terminator: Dark Fate, plays Kate, a teacher who agrees to become a governess to Flora and Miles, two orphaned children. Flora is played by Brooklynn Prince, who won rave reviews for her work in The Florida Project. Finn Wolfhard, famous for Stranger Things and It Chapters 1 and 2, is Miles. Barbara Marten plays Mrs. Grose, the woman in charge of the giant old mansion where our new governess finds herself. The house is run down and gothic and gorgeous and foreboding. Kate finds that being a governess is a lot harder that she thought it was going to be. Mrs. Grose doesn’t like her, Miles is violent and creepy around her, and Flora refuses to leave the property. Oh, and there might be ghosts. 

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James has been adapted for the big screen many times, most famously as The Innocents with Deborah Kerr. That film asked the audience to question whether or not we believed the governess’ thoughts when it came to hauntings and the children in her care. The Turning is more concerned with exploring toxic masculinity as a learned behavior and the lingering effects of trauma. At least, those are things the film feels like it wants to explore, but never gets around to it. 

The Turning is released under the Amblin banner, as Steven Spielberg was attached to the project for many years. He expressed an interest to make another horror film, something to shock audiences. The Turning is shocking alright, because it feels like an unfinished film. And not only because of the sure-to-be-talked-about abrupt ending (was it an ending?!). It feels like you could rearrange scenes and it would make as much sense as the edit that was released. The whole film feels disconnected, with special effects as murky as the largely unexplored themes. This can’t have been the movie the filmmakers wanted to release.

It’s not until the end credits of the film, when we see fingers being traced methodically across wallpaper, when we see a figure undulating underwater, all while hazy, jagged dream pop plays, that we get a feeling for the true artistry of director Floria Sigismondi. Sigismondi is a talented visual artist, known for her music videos (including Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” and David Bowie’s “Dead Man Walking”) and her excellent biopic from 2010, The Runaways. As unfulfilling as The Turning is, I hope another decade doesn’t pass before we see her next major motion picture. 

I’m not sure why The Turning is set in the 1990s, but it allows a character to give someone a copy of Sweet Oblivion by Screaming Trees, saying as they hand them the compact disc, “This is a great album.” I agree with that. It is a great album. My advice to you is to skip this movie and listen to that record, or another Screaming Trees album. Last Words, Dust, and Uncle Anesthesia are all wonderful as well.