New to Amazon Prime Video, and arriving just in time for Halloween, is The Turning – a supernatural horror movie from director Floria Sigismondi. Based on the horror novella, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Turning stars Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard and Joely Richardson, and tells the story of a young woman called Kate, who is hired to watch over two orphaned children.
But this is not a simple babysitting job, and soon Kate finds herself in the midst of a ghost story, complete with slamming doors, ominous apparitions, and things that go bump in the night. This all leads to 95 minutes of running around a stately home, trying not to get freaked out by sinister spectres or wound up by the antics of two stuck-up brats.
If The Turning sounds vaguely familiar, it is possibly because this movie has been in development since early 2016, where it initially ran under the title, Haunted, from director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. That project was due to go before cameras in late 2016, but the shoot was cancelled; and after a lengthy redevelopment phase and the appointment of a new director, it eventually morphed into The Turning.
When it finally hit the big screen back in January 2020, The Turning dropped in and out of theatres with very little notice. But unlike most movies from this year, this had nothing to do with COVID-19, and instead it was due to the poor reviews from critics, as well as general disinterest from audiences.
But is The Turning all that bad? Or can a streaming platform like Amazon bring it to fresh eyes and give it a new lease of life?
I would like to say yes. I am going to say no.
Part ethereal madness, part Gothic horror, The Turning is an odd movie to say the least. In my opinion, The Turning is not an awful film, but it is not a particularly good one either.
Where it works, it works very well, and for this I believe it can and must be praised. Unfortunately, there are significant problems throughout the picture, including a very poor ending, and these issues scupper the movie’s potential.
From a visual standpoint, The Turning looks gorgeous. The Gothic setting is hauntingly effective, and whether it is a mist-covered garden or a dimly-lit study, there is a real sense of spookiness to everything that is placed in front of the camera.
The cast also work very well; especially Mackenzie Davis who is captivating as Kate Mandell – the poor woman who finds herself a little out of her depth when it comes to childminding. Mandell – and by extension, Mackenzie Davis – is emotionally and physically put through the wringer in this picture and it is certainly something to watch.
Likewise, Finn Wolfhard stands out in this movie, albeit for different reasons. His character walks a fine line between moody teen and ‘psycho in the making’, and Wolfhard handles him effortlessly, resulting in another interesting presence in this picture.
I am also going to throw in a mention for the soundtrack, which was great. The haunting piece over the end credits was superb.
So yes, there really are some positives and I can’t tell you how much I wanted to like this film. For large chunks of The Turning, I found something here that could have been proved very strong.
The problem though, is that while the scenery and the cast do a good job of keeping things going, there is an uneasy sense that everything else has either been done before or is simply missing the mark. And even before I reached the movie’s finale, I knew I would be left unsatisfied with what I was watching.
At two different points in the movie I checked the clock. This had nothing to do with being bored, but instead to do with a deep concern The Turning was running out of time to tell its story.
At the 30-minute mark, I felt the narrative was moving too slowly. At the one-hour mark, I feared that either I was heading for an abrupt ending, or a rushed payoff.
As it turned out, the abrupt ending was what I got. Although I’m not sure it was really an abrupt ending so much as no real ending at all.
The Turning doesn’t run out of steam, it just doesn’t have an ending. The only real way I could tell the story was over was by the fact the credits simply appeared on screen, and because I watched this film on Amazon, and at the end of a film an image pops up in the right-hand corner to suggest what I should watch next.
Now, I don’t know if the movie ran out of money, if no one could figure out a way to tie things up, or the director simply wanted to leave audiences with something to think about; but this movie does not wrap up in a satisfactory way. I am aware of the ambiguous nature of the original source material, and I know what ‘the conclusion’ is trying to suggest, but the ending feels heavy handed and frankly rubbish.
The finale needed more foreshadowing, greater explanation, or simply more time to play out. But no, it simply happens – get over it, credits roll etc.
I’m sure, at some point in the future, some audiences will dissect this movie, find much to discuss, and tell me the ending was a masterpiece. I am also more than happy to repeat what I said earlier, that where it works, it works well; but it just doesn’t work as a whole – and it just doesn’t work for me.
I must also come back to the point that this has all been done before. The haunted house picture has been through many iterations, including fantastic films such as The Haunting (1963) and The Others (2001), so this one feels all a bit redundant.
Despite the parts I liked, I simply can’t recommend The Turning. It needed at least another 30-minutes to add something more to the story, but as it stands it feels unfulfilling.
If Universal Pictures want to bung the director some money to go back and reshoot some more material, I am all for an extended cut. But this cut, which is there for all to see on Amazon, with that ending?! Nah, it feels too hollow and I need more.