Thursday, February 6, 2020

Movie Review: "The Turning" (2020)

Director: Floria Sigismondi
Year: 2020
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Waaaay back in 1898, author Henry James wrote the horror novella "The Turn of the Screw." Over the next 120 years, it would be adapted numerous times into stage plays and films. First and most notably was the 1961 adaptation by director Jack Clayton called "The Innocents." Five more works based on James's novella would be released over the years in 1972, 1985, 1992, 1999, and 2006, and that isn't even counting made-for-TV adaptations. Now, in 2020, "The Conjuring" writers Chad and Carey Hayes offer yet another version of the story with "The Turning," helmed by director Floria Sigismondi. The story centers on Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis), a teacher who takes a job as a governess to Flora Fairchild (Brooklynn Prince) after her previous tutor disappears. Kate gets more than she bargained for when Flora's older brother, Miles (Finn Wolfhard), returns home unexpectedly from boarding school. His return coincides with some unusual phenomenon, which makes Kate believe the Fairchild estate might be haunted.
Photo: Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, and Mackenzie Davis star in the 2020 horror film "The Turning."
Photo: Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, and Mackenzie Davis star in the 2020 horror film "The Turning." (Image Source)
Maybe "The Turning" (2020) was doomed to begin with. The film first went into development back in 2016 as a passion project for none other than Steven Spielberg, though it had a different title, a separate director, and another cast at that time. Due to some rewrites Spielberg didn't agree with, he eventually pulled the plug, only for it to be restarted with a new director, a fresh cast, and the original script sand rewrites, resulting in "The Turning" (2020). It finished shooting in early 2018 and sat on the shelf until today. We now see why this was the case because it's an absolute mess. This project had all of the elements necessary to be a sleek, modern horror mystery. It has a talented cast, great writers, and an experienced director, but somehow, it doesn't come together at all. Director Floria Sigismondi tries her best to create an eerie atmosphere at a gigantic, isolated New England gothic estate. She attempts to build tension and develop an unsettling aura but fails entirely because instead of being a slow-burning mystery, it winds up being a boring snoozefest without any substance. It also relies on cliche, ineffective, ill-timed jump scares for its primary source of horror. The most infuriating thing about "The Turning" (2020) is that the "boo! gotcha!" moments in the script come from dream sequences, which we think is the ultimate horror movie cop-out. Using one, maybe two dreams might have been okay to plant a seed of doubt about specific characters. However, Sigismondi thought it would be a good idea to use dreams every 10-15 minutes for its whole runtime! Anything scary or supernatural that happens happens in la-la land/nightmare alley/an imagined sequence that never actually takes place. Sigismondi clearly wants the audience to question Kate's sanity, but there are many other visual cues and sections of dialogue uttered by other characters that contradict this hypothesis. This leaves gaping, glaring plot holes in place of an actual cohesive story. In spite of the best efforts of its talented cast, the narrative doesn't come together and left us wanting to go off into our own little dream-world where we could forget we had to sit through this insipid drudgery.
Photo: In the movie "The Turning," Barbara Marten shakes Mackenzie Davis's face and warns her about the Fairchild estate.
Photo: In the movie "The Turning," Barbara Marten shakes Mackenzie Davis's face and warns her about the Fairchild estate. (Image Source)
"The Turning" (2020) may have escaped with a slightly higher score if it weren't for the ending, which feels like everyone behind the scenes was waving a big middle finger in our faces instead of actually writing a proper conclusion. We can get behind an ambiguous ending under the right circumstances. In the proper hands, an open-ended finale can leave audiences discussing and debating details for years to come (see: "Annihilation," "Inception," hell, some people even think "Taxi Driver" is left open to interpretation). When done poorly, however, as is the case here, we left the entirely-empty-except-for-us theater showing yelling "fuck you!" at the screen. Any points this would have gotten immediately melted away when the filmmakers decided it was better to let us paint our own adventure instead of, you know, completing their goddamn movie on their own. It's not confusing, it's just literally NOT FINISHED. If you want to see a prime example of how not to end a film ambiguously, look no further than "The Turning" (2020).

My Rating: 1/10
BigJ's Rating: 1/10
IMDB's Rating: 3.7/10
RT Rating: 13%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

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