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Family Movie Review: The Turning (PG-13)

Horror adaptation ‘The Turning’ is neither particularly scary nor memorable.

Kernel Rating: 1.5 out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 94 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. This adaptation of the classic horror novel ‘The Turn of the Screw’ changes the setting to the 1990s, but retains many elements of the original ghost story. Children are orphaned and live in a spooky house, inside which characters see ghosts, hear mysterious noises, and are attacked; some physical violence, including some shoving and assault, and a scary game of hide-and-seek; a scene in which a sexual assault occurs, mostly seen from the perspective of a third character who is watching the attack; ghosts, a drowning, some scary pranks, characters who die off-screen, some scary moments with spiders; a character kills a fish by smashing it with his shoe; some flirty comments and inappropriately sexual suggestions. For younger teens, this might be a little too mature, especially given the sexual-assault content.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Turn of the Screw” is a classic ghost story by Henry James that has been adapted numerous times since its publication in 1898. The latest film adaptation, “The Turning,” attempts to spin the story in a different direction, updating the time period to the 1990s and adding in a subplot about mental illness. But this horror movie’s lack of scares and long stretches of inaction make it less cerebral than it should be.

TheTurning1 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview“The Turn of the Screw” tells the story of a governess who is entrusted with the care of two children who she comes to believe are possessed by the spirits of the previous governess and a member of the household staff. “The Turning” transforms the story a bit: Twentysomething Kate (Mackenzie Davis) is a teacher who decides to leave the classroom to take a live-in tutor position with an orphaned girl. When Kate meets the energetic, sassy Flora (Brooklynn Prince), she thinks they have an immediate bond—although living at Fairchild Estates is strange. Flora has never been off the property; there are sections of the house where they’re not allowed to go; and Flora hears mysterious noises and sees inexplicable things. What is going on?

The strangeness of the experience is only exacerbated when Flora’s older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) unexpectedly arrives home from boarding school. The teen is aggressive, noncompliant, and inappropriately flirty with Kate, acting far more mature than his years. Kate learns that Miles was close to a family employee who recently passed away, Quint—what did the man teach him before his shocking death?

Miles’s attitude negatively affects Flora, too. The girl who had once been so friendly and engaged with Kate is now haughty and cruel, like Miles, and the children’s disinterest isn’t the only problem. Kate also begins to see what she thinks are ghosts, the spirits of people moving around the house, hovering around the children. What is happening at Fairchild Estates, and how is Kate going to protect these children—and herself?

“The Turning” is two movies at once, and neither one is particularly compelling. On the one hand, the film is a classic ghost story, with figures lingering in the shadows, popping out for jump scares, and waiting in the ponds and pools around the property. A few of these scares are legitimately frightening—especially one with a disembodied hand—but otherwise they fall into repetitive patterns. On the other hand, “The Turning” is trying to make a statement about mental illness, but the movie so superficially handles the concept that it’s more disrespectful than insightful. The fumbling at the film’s conclusion is particularly confusing, and will leave fans of the novel unsatisfied.

Davis and Wolfhard play well off each other, and Wolfhard (who the tween and teen girls at my screening were very excited to giggle at whenever he was onscreen) in particular nails his role as a smug, petulant child of privilege. But “The Turning” can’t quite find a balance that works overall. The movie’s inconsistent scares and confusing ending make for an unfulfilling adaptation of James’s classic text.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.   

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