- Katherine McLaughlin
- 23 January 2020
This grungy, suitably ambiguous horror remake looks the part but lacks suspense
Director Floria Sigismondi, who made her name directing iconic music videos in the 90s for the likes of Marilyn Manson, Tricky and David Bowie, has a crack at adapting Henry James' 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw. With a screenplay by Carey and Chad Hayes (the twins behind The Conjuring), it keeps the ambiguity intact and nods at Jack Clayton's masterful The Innocents throughout, but doesn't possess the same grace and subtlety of that 60s chiller starring Deborah Kerr.
Instead, this is the grunge movie version of the book, packed full of thorny eroticism and startling sexual advances. It wears its title as proudly as its characters dash along the creaking corridors of the isolated, stately home, wearing oversized, holey jumpers and silky slips with lace-up boots. The appointment of Kate (Mackenzie Davis, most recently seen ass-kicking in Terminator: Dark Fate) as governess even coincides with the discovery of the body of Kurt Cobain – on April 8, 1994 – after her predecessor, Miss Jessel (Denna Thomsen), mysteriously disappears.
Barbara Marten plays the fantastically stiff housekeeper Mrs Grose, while Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) are a wicked delight, making ample mayhem as Miles and Flora respectively. They play pranks on Kate and act out as they recover from their parents' death and the apparent suicide of the estate manager Quint (Niall Greig Fulton). As in the book, Kate can't seem to tell whether the children are motivated by grief or cruelty, and the film keeps you guessing with Mrs Grose's talk of their wealth and privilege.
The fashion and mise en scène are to die for, but Sigismondi doesn't always deliver on the suspense, with unconvincing interludes pausing momentum and the film becoming stagnant as it unfolds. And, with an ending that doesn't entirely land and that could be badly misconstrued, The Turning is more a series of intriguing ideas than a fully persuasive reinvention.
General release from Fri 24 Jan.