A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Turning is director Floria Sigismondi's take on Henry James' classic 1898 horror novel The Turn of the Screw about a teacher who starts seeing ghosts. Starring Mackenzie Davis, the modernized version (which is set in 1994, a century later than James' book) has creepy, atmospheric sequences, a couple of jump-worthy moments, and a ghost with a tendency toward sexual assault and general violence. Language includes one use of "f--king," plus "s--t" and exclamations of "hell," "Jesus," and more. A teen makes suggestive comments and advances toward his sister's teacher, a woman's bare back is visible as she bathes, and a rape/murder is blurrily depicted in a vision. The movie isn't outright scary so much as it is creepy and dark, and it unfortunately has an unsatisfying ending.
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What's the story?
Set in the 1990s, THE TURNING is a modernized adaptation of Henry James' 1890s Gothic horror novella The Turn of the Screw. The book tells the story of a governess who is in way over her head at a possibly haunted estate, Bly Manor. In this version, school teacher Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) leaves the classroom to work as a live-in instructor for young house-bound orphan Flora Fairchild (Brooklynn Prince), who never leaves her family's mansion. Just as Kate is getting used to her new gig, Flora's older brother, Miles (Finn Wolfhard), is expelled from his boarding school. Miles returns home, where he quickly proceeds to test, torment, and even make inappropriate comments and advances toward Kate. Soon, Kate starts to think she's seeing and hearing ghosts with violent intentions and that Miles is possibly possessed -- even though the family's stern, snobbish housekeeper defends the children at all costs.
Is it any good?
Despite the talented cast and atmospheric production design, this adaptation suffers from both a sluggish plot and an unnecessarily abrupt ending. Davis, Prince, and Wolfhard are all fine actors, but there's little for them to do except act terrified, indulged, and smug, respectively. If ever there was a competition for rich kids behaving badly, Wolfhard's Miles (whom the housekeeper calls a "thoroughbred") would definitely place. He's indignant at the thought of clearing his plate, apathetic about his expulsion from school, and uninterested in following any rules "the help" might suggest. Kate, meanwhile, is the ultimate misguided do-gooder, and audiences may well take perverse delight in yelling at her throughout The Turning.
Why Kate stays at the haunted manse with ungrateful children (Flora can be sweet, but she cares far more about her brother than her teacher) is beyond understanding. The only reasonable character in the movie is Kate's former roommate/best friend, Rose (Kim Adis), who routinely implores Kate to ditch the gig and come home. Rose is also the sole source of levity in the movie, because Kate is utterly humorless. Of course, Kate also isn't in her right mind: She's seeing ghosts and is overly invested in the children's lives. The movie's ambiguous final sequence will frustrate audiences because it's so incomprehensible -- and not in a thought-provoking Inception or The Others manner, but in a "what did we just watch?" or "why did we waste our money?" way.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes for a good horror film. What elements does The Turning have that make it horror? Is the violence necessary to tell the story?
Why do you think big estates are often featured in horror films? What makes them so easy to be frightened of -- and in?
Why do you think this adaptation is set in the 1990s? How can you tell it's that decade, and why do you think the filmmaker set the remake then?
- In theaters: January 24, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: April 14, 2020
- Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince
- Director: Floria Sigismondi
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: terror, violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive content
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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