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Review: ‘The Turning’ Gets Under the Skin

Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince and Joely Richardson star in the mystery thriller, directed by Floria Sigismondi. 

A new governess arrives to care for two children who have been recently orphaned. Slowly and steadily, she learns that a frightening spirit inhabits the mansion. 

First published in 1898, Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw has inspired a flock of film and television adaptations, drawing upon the source material’s inherent ambiguity. Helmed by Floria Sigismondi, known for her photography and many music videos, as well as her musical bio-drama The Runaways (2010), the latest screen version follows schoolteacher Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis, Terminator: Dark Fate) into the remote Irish countryside, where she has accepted a position as governess for young Flora Fairchild (Brooklyn Prince, The Florida Project). 

Greeted amicably enough by longtime household manager Mrs. Grose (Barbara Merten), Kate’s efforts to befriend Flora are stymied when older brother Miles Fairchild (Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things) arrives home unexpectedly from boarding school. Miles’ behavior begins on a rude note and becomes progressively more distasteful and disagreeable, spoiling the possibility of Kate ever becoming a good teacher for Flora. 

The children act in concert to disrupt and flummox Kate, whose nerves begin to shred when the many-roomed mansion seems to display a frightening spirit as well. Mrs. Grose doesn’t help Kate, either, making light of her concerns and belittling her supposed authority as governess. 

Sigismondi constructs a completely unsettling atmosphere around poor Kate, buttressed by the creepy performances of Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince as children of privilege who have been spoiled past the breaking point. Mackenzie Davis gives an incredibly strong, delicately layered performance as she gradually becomes unglued by the children and her surroundings. 

The screenplay by horror scribes Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes (The Conjuring, House of Wax) sets up the narrative clearly, while drawing convincing characterizations — including Kate’s mother Darla (Joely Richardson) — and leading to a chilling conclusion that is awash in sufficient ambiguity to honor Henry James and also possibly befuddle modern audiences. 

It’s a good ride, and plays especially well in these days of social distancing. 

The film opened in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on January 24, 2020. The film is now available to watch via a variety of VOD platforms, including FandangoNow. For more information about the film, visit the official site.