I don’t know what it is about the start of the New Year, but the cinema always seems to be lacking around this time. So, when The Turning was released, I got real excited. Not only was it a thriller, but it was based on The Turn of the Screw, the novel that inspired the story of The Woman in Black. I couldn’t wait to see what peculiarities the film would deliver, to sit in the darkness and tense until my muscles ached as the characters wandered around this strange old house. But boy, was I hugely disappointed. That is why I’m only rating this film 3/10.
The good parts about this film are as follows: the acting, and the costume design. The plot – the main part of the film – was a disaster. A sloppy mess of leftovers piled together in some sort of final product. Finn Wolfhard does an outstanding, albeit unsettling, job at playing Miles whose sister, Flora, is played by Brooklyn Prince. The pair play sinister siblings who are the sole heirs to their family’s estate, as their parents died in a car accident. Children are often a source of the creepy, but these two are next level. They seem ignorant of the feelings of the adults around them; Miles has no trouble in ending the life of a Koi fish and using a whip on a horse. They are looked after by the even creepier and peculiar Mrs. Grose, who seems to idolise the children and frequently reminds us that they are ‘thoroughbreds’. What you perceive this to mean is completely up to you as she never explains herself, but its strange repetition is enough to make you squirm.
You begin to learn that these three characters live sheltered from the world, Flora, unlike the others, never leaves the house after watching her parents die just outside its gates. But she begins to loosen up when Kate (played by Mackenzie Davis) is hired as the new live-in tutor. Kate enjoys her job until Miles is sent home from school and strange things begin to happen. Miles acts sinisterly around Kate, even entering her room in the night and hitting on her. We learn that he used to be very close to Quint, the old stable master, who was a bad influence on him.
Kate constantly questions the goings on in the house, and Miles’ behaviour. Is it haunted? Is Quint alive or dead? This start to the film is interesting; you want to know just what is really happening. However, from here the narrative begins to twist into an impossible knot of confusion and unanswered questions. From what I could gather, Kate learns that Quint is actually dead and that it’s his ghost that has possessed the house and Miles (I think). We learn that he abused and took pictures of the last tutor, and that Mrs. Grose killed him.
The most well thought out part of this film is the costume design. As Kate discovers more about the house and descends further into madness, it’s reflected in her appearance. When we first see her, she has neat, shoulder-length blonde hair and wears blazers and, well, what you would expect a young teacher to wear to work. However, as time passes at the house, her hair becomes increasingly wild and unbrushed, she bites her fingers out of paranoia and her outfits become less formal and more chaotic, thrown together. Her appearance becomes a visual representation of her mind. This portrayal of the unhinged protagonist is the main aspect of The Turn of the Screw and The Woman in Black and is one of the only cohesive aspects of the film.
All of the actors in the film give compelling performances, but the set design, costume design and their acting are ultimately let down by the plot. What is meant to be the backbone of the film gives out halfway through, and ends with next to no questions answered and even more to answer. I don’t want to spoil the film too much because, to some degree, it’s still worth watching for the good parts. Just know that it ends abruptly. So abruptly in fact that when the cinema lights went up, not a person moved. When they did move it was to look around in shock at those around them; we all expected there to be more. I will tell you now that when Kate begins running her hand across some wallpaper, that well and truly is the end of the film. Don’t expect anything else.