To discuss The Turning, we have to start at the end. This movie has possibly the worst ending of any major studio release I've ever seen. The story works its way toward a logical wrap-up. Then it abruptly backtracks, undoing a major plot development, and delivers a second wrap-up that leaves you asking, “What just happened?” You walk out of the theater utterly confused. The finale puts the final nail in the coffin of a film that squanders a couple good elements.
In this adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate) plays Kate, a young woman who takes a job as a governess to a little girl named Flora (The Florida Project's Brooklyn Prince) whose parents have died. Not long after arriving at the sprawling estate, she begins to clash with the oddly stern housekeeper, Mrs. Groce (Barbara Marten). Things get weirder when Flora's brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) is sent home from boarding school following a violent episode. Kate suddenly begins experiencing time-honored chiller cliches, such as curtains spookily blowing and apparitions making themselves visible in mirrors. Eventually, she discovers the house has a horrifying secret.
The Turning is not without its good qualities. All the cast members give fine performances. Davis is particularly strong, exuding a warm, open quality that makes us care about Kate immediately. Director Floria Sigismondi and cinematographer David Ungaro, meanwhile, provide the film with a great atmosphere. They make the mansion seem elegant in its creepiness, and creepy in its elegance. Fans of old-school chillers will take pleasure in the overall vibe.
The issue is the story, a level on which the movie fails. I'm not going to blame writers Cary and Chad Hayes (The Conjuring) because I suspect they wrote much more than what's here. The Turning pretty obviously had sections of plot development and exposition cut out, leaving only a string of random paranormal moments. Significant events happen with little context, while others fail to pay off as meaningfully as we're led to believe they will. Several are interesting in and of themselves, so it's frustrating that they don't fit into a more cohesive larger picture.
That brings us back to the ending. Something went incredibly wrong. It plays as though the filmmakers didn't know how to end the picture, so they tried to create the impression of drama by manufacturing a fake-out. A stunt like that was never going to work anyway, but having the last two minutes be incomprehensible only sends you away wondering why you wasted an hour-and-a-half on a movie that can't even be bothered to make sense.
out of four
The Turning is rated PG-13 for terror, violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive content. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.