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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Review: The Turning

Director: Floria Sigismondi
Screenplay: Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes
Year: 2020

When “The Turning” was announced, it created a lot of expectations among horror movie fans because of two reasons that were not enough for it to figure in our list for the most anticipated horror movies of 2020. The presence of Finn Wolfhard ("It: Chapter Two") in the main cast and the story in which it is based on cause curiosity, but after having seen the trailer, it only generated doubts. Even worse, the most interesting things about the trailer are not part of the movie. 

A young tutor is contracted to take care of two kids after their parents died. Once the tutor reaches the kids’ house, she starts experiencing events that she is unable to distinguish if they are the product of ghosts, her imagination, or pranks from the older of the kids. As the days go by these events worsen as well as the older kid’s behavior, which seems to have something against the tutor, as well as serious behavior and preciosity issues. 

In the first scenes of “The Turning”, Kate (Mackenzie Davis; “Black Mirror”) accepts to work as a tutor for Flora (Brooklyn Prince; “The Florida Project”) and, in a style reminiscent of “The Shining” we see an aerial shot of her car as she drives towards the imposing mansion. The news in the television announcing the death of singer Kurt Cobain serves as a temporal marker, placing the story in the middle of the ‘90s decade, limiting the available technology for communication, especially in a place so far away, This set-up establishes a gothic horror atmosphere that remains for most of the movie and is what’s best done. 

During the first minutes, the plot of Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes (“The Conjuring”) and the direction of Floria Sigismondi (“The Runaways”) promises a movie that is at least decent. Based on the novella from writer Henry James titled “The Turn of The Screw” and the fact that this story has been adapted several times, it was expected that it will bring something new and different and, although it did, it wasn’t in the best way. As what happens in the novella, “The Turning” plays with the different scenarios about the reason for what is taking place, particularly with the effort put on foreshadowing in the first scenes but leaves all ideas half baked. 

An early and effective jump scare shortly after Kate having arrived at the mansion serves as a warning of the style the movie will adopt, leaning more towards the field of cheap jump scares rather than towards an intriguing story. From my perspective, little can be held against the director and screenwriters, as the studio interference is quickly evident and might be a possible explanation for why there are so many half-baked ideas and why there are images that appear in the promotional campaign that does not appear in the movie and have little to do with the path it decides to take. Only if a director’s cut is later released will we know if this could have been a good movie or if it was destined to be a flop anyway. 

It is impressive that a movie in which the cast does such a good job (Brooklyn Prince stands out here), has good visuals and atmosphere, and a promising start does so little with its material. The plot development leaves in evidence some of its problems, but the ending fully reveals them. When it seems like the movie it’s about to reach the third act it abruptly ends, with a resolution that, although in line with what has been shown, it ends up being unsatisfactory and cannot be considered a real ending. 

“The Turning” goes into the January flops list and one that had everything in its favor to be successful, but a long list of bad decisions ended up being costly. Instead of leaning towards a story surrounded by mystery and gothic horror, it decides to do so with a generic story that allows adding as many cheap jump scares as possible and a frustrating ending. Any success that this movie might have will be more because of Finn Wolfhard's presence in it and the army of followers that will be present at the theater to see him act in it.

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