The haunted house movie genre is one that is in constant ebb and flow when it comes to quality. For every stellar entry like The Conjuring or Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, we get forgettable titles like Winchester and Amityville: The Awakening.
The Turning, Hollywood’s latest mangling of Henry James’ classic 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, sadly falls into the category of film that only exists to make the great ones seem greater by comparison.
Despite starting with rich source material and incorporating some watchable rising stars into its cast, this redundant and horribly derivative would-be supernatural thriller offers very little in the way of fresh scares.
Set almost 100 years after James’ original tale, the story centers around kindergarten teacher Kate (Mackenzie Davis) as she takes a live-in nanny/tutor position for the recently orphaned Flora (Brooklynn Prince) and Miles (Finn Wolfhard). Helping manage the vast estate where the kids reside is housekeeper Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), who seems suspicious of Kate from the moment she steps onto the property. Although Kate and Flora seem to ease into a friendly relationship, Miles presents as much more abrasive and even lecherous to their new guest. It doesn’t take long for things to sour further as the haunts of the creepy manor materialize in the form of menacing apparitions that suggest a dark history.
Making the leap to feature films after crafting music videos for artists like Katy Perry and Justin Timberlake, director Floria Sigismondi can’t find her voice within this hopelessly generic adaptation. In an all-too-rare bit of meta humor, Kate murmurs, “This can’t be real,” as she pulls up to the house for the first time and beholds a barrage of cliches: the dilapidated mansion, the impossibly long driveway adorned with dead trees on either side, and naturally, the gloomy weather to match.
The truth is, it’s all real, at least in the sense that Sigismondi is going to take every trick and trope associated with the spooky house genre deadly seriously from there on out.
Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes, responsible for bringing The Conjuring to life, inelegantly stuff their script with suggestions as to what’s behind all of these creepy occurrences. The character work is especially thin, not leaving much meat on the bone for Davis and company to dig into past increasingly haunted facial expressions.
The presence of props from pet tarantulas to porcelain dolls perpetuate a moody atmosphere that constantly comes across as contrived. Sigismondi assembles all of these tried-and-true gothic horror elements and tosses them into a blender, producing a bland purée that only the most gullible of teens will consume.
This is the kind of film that teases you for 90 minutes, dangling all manner of red herrings and half-reveals in front of our faces, until it finally gives the viewer the unfiltered truth in the end. If The Turning is remarkable in any way, it’s certainly in how unsatisfying and downright confusing a conclusion it offers as a bitter consolation prize for enduring its preceding narrative.
Everyone who worked on the film should take comfort in knowing that most audience members will stay through the credits, likely to take a moment and wipe the perplexed looks off their faces. The Turning may indeed turn heads, even if it’s to the side to signify bewilderment.
Coming to theaters this weekend
Gretel and Hansel, starring Sophia Lillis and Sam Leakey, retells the dark fairy tale about a pair of siblings who get lost in the woods and stumble upon terrifying evil in the process.
The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively and Jude Law, is an international spy thriller that follows a woman who seeks to uncover the truth behind a plane crash that killed her family three years earlier.
Opening at Cinema Center is VHYes, starring Kerri Kenney and Thomas Lennon, a comedy shot entirely on VHS and Beta about a boy who accidentally records home videos over his parents’ wedding tape.
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