With the Oscar season fully in motion, so too is the early-year dumping ground period. Studios tend to release films they have little confidence in around the first couple of months of a calendar year, as to avoid stiffer competition from blockbuster extravaganzas usually reserved for the summer season or the flourishing Christmas period. Floria Sigismondi’s supernatural horror, The Turning, is one of these unfortunate features.

The film is a modern take on the 1898 ghost story “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James and features Steven Spielberg as executive producer. It follows Kate (Mackenzie Davis), a primary school teacher turned live-in governess at an old countryside mansion after she is hired by a man to look after his young nephew and niece following their parent’s death.

The atmosphere is alluring initially, bolstered by an impressive performance from Brooklyn Prince (the child breakout star of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project), who deserves credit for her ability to switch between joyful and hostile dispositions seamlessly as the youngest child Flora. However, its slow pace, categorically bewildering ambiguity and over-dependence on early jump-scares tarnish what could have been a tense unravelling, leaving viewers to question what, exactly, there is to be afraid of in this large, creaky house.

The striking lack of characterisation, particularly hurtful to Finn Wolfhard’s Miles and his puzzling intentions, leaves far too many aspects of the film unexplained, lacking both the sensitivity and ambition to tackle the more human elements of the film convincingly. Thus, when the supernatural events start occurring and the history of deaths in the family estate surface, the emotional vacuum left by the film’s detachment from its core characters drains any and all impact.

Although it could be argued that the scares are simply not frightening in the first place, as The Turning never quite knows how and when to reveal its cards – heck, it barely even knows its own hand. Sigismondi seems to reluctantly disclose nonsensical plot devices over what becomes a painful 94 minutes run-time, all of which culminate to form a series of baffling proceedings that simply don’t link up.

Yet just when all engagement with the film is lost, it then tries to throw you a monstrously misguided curveball, officially condemning The Turning to its pre-ordained headstone in amongst the January film graveyard. Directionless and incoherent, The Turning fails to resonate in almost every aspect, making it a breeze to forget. At least that’s one mercy the film provides.

1 star

Image: Movie DB

Josh Teggert is a Screen Editor at Forge Press.

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