If there’s one thing I love about horror movies, it’s the common tropes that lie within them. I often go through periods in which I focus on something particular: werewolves, crazy families, horror road trips, the list goes on and on. When I first saw the trailer for The Turning, my attention was immediately captured by the plethora of tropes displayed. Featuring actors like Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049), I had high hopes that the film would be a decent new addition to the world of horror. As with almost all well-edited trailers though, the film itself turned out to be absolutely terrible.
Based upon a novella from 1898 by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, The Turning follows the story of Kate, a young girl who is offered a nanny position at a private mansion in which she expects to take care of a young, orphaned girl. As time goes on though, strange things begin to happen, and the lines between reality and the imaginary begin to blur. Only an hour and a half long, the story whips past at a breakneck speed, unveiling information at a quickfire pace. The jump-scares in the movie are adequate, yet not well-placed and often done cheaply, placed in spots in which there was no buildup and too many hints to have a true effect on the audience.
As time passed, I began to feel bad for the actors within the film. I’ve seen all of them in other works before and know they’re all extremely talented and capable of doing their job well. But even the best actors are limited when faced with a stilted, awkward script. I can usually look past dreadful writing, but I couldn’t avoid cringing at unnatural phrasing that felt reminiscent of short stories written by third graders. Add that on top of the ludicrous content of many scenes, and you had a true disaster of a movie from the get-go. It was only afterwards that I learned the film was based upon a short story, and I can only wonder what was drawn from the writing, and what was not. I have a feeling that some of the more outrageous aspects were concocted by the crew, since many other reviewers have displayed their distaste for the way in which the story was adapted.
As The Turning develops it becomes increasingly apparent that the writer of the story had no idea what plot thread they wanted to focus on. Several ideas and themes are thrown at the wall—mental illness, ghosts, psychotic children, sexual abuse, insanity—only to never be fully developed and eventually discarded in lieu of something else. The jumble of different plot threads makes the linear progression of the story almost nonexistent; in the end, nothing mattered because nothing ever came to fruition. The end feels sloppy and haphazardly thrown together, as if the crew realized that damn it, they actually needed a conclusion to this monstrosity. I, and several other people in the theater, made exclamations when the credits rolled. It was a trite, easy road to take, and it put a nail in the coffin, sealing the film as not only a waste of time, but a laughable attempt at horror.
Overall, The Turning was an immense disappointment. It had all the workings and tropes to be an homage to great classic horror films—a secluded mansion, creepy kids, ghosts, a main character who may or may not be imagining things—and yet it failed to do anything but provide exasperation and wonder at how it made past the pre-production stage. To the crew and actors in the film, I can truly offer only one condolence: at least you’re getting your bad films out of the way while you’re young.