The Turning and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
January being the bad month for movies hasn’t ALWAYS been true as interesting stuff like has come out in years past, but it seems that aside from the ONE exception of The Boy, it’s always true for horror movie; something we’ve already seen this year with The Grudge. I certainly didn’t see much to get excited for in the trailers leading up to this, and even having a big name like Finn Wolfhard didn’t do much to capture my interest, but I’ve been blindsided by unassuming movies before and perhaps this will be the one to break the January horror film rule! Okay fine, it probably won’t be, but let’s find out anyway!!
Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) has landed the job of lifetime as she’s hired by a very rich family to tutor the young daughter Flora (Brooklynn Prince) in their giant house on their giant estate. It starts off well enough as Flora is friendly and eager to learn, but the housekeeper Miss Grose (Barbara Marten) is rather cagey on the details that led to this position being open (up to and including the details on the death of the parents), and Miles the older brother (Finn Wolfhard) unexpectedly returns home from boarding school which means she has to babysit him and curb his rather disturbing attitude. While all this is going on, spooky things keep on happening that may involve a groundskeeper that died not long before Kate took the position, or maybe it has something to do with the family itself. Whatever the case may be, Kate is besieged by visions, nightmares, and that creep Miles from all sides which might just be enough to drive her mad. Can she solve the various mysterious about this house and the family that occupies it? What will she do when it becomes harder and harder to discern the spooky ghost stuff from reality? Does anyone else get the sense that Finn Wolfhard was REALLY banking on that Disney/Sony deal actually falling through?
People, I tried. I was REALLY trying hard to give this movie the benefit of the doubt and that all of this middling nonsense was leading to some sort of point; that if I just stuck it out then it would all make sense! I couldn’t have been more wrong because this movie is not only wonky and oddly structured, but has one of the worst endings I’ve seen in some time. I won’t go so far as to say this is pretentious as the concepts are not THAT heady or undecipherable, but it definitely has an inflated sense of its own importance which only makes its blatant missteps hurt that much more. Then again, this is supposed to be based on a book so maybe the source material wasn’t all that great to begin with, but it’s still the job of the filmmakers to adapt it to this medium, and someone should have realized that what is being put in theaters right now is incomprehensible and more than a little insufferable. Sadly it looks like the only one who had a clue was the studio which is why this is being dumped in January, but regardless of when audiences end up seeing it we’re still stuck with the mess!
The movie is basically three separate films fighting and ripping each other apart to try and make all the pieces fit together. We’ve got a really solid Shining pastiche that is easily the best part of the movie, a mediocre horror film with jump scares and stock characters, and a book adaptation that’s just off doing its own thing. It’s at its best when it’s setting a deliberate tone with precise camerawork; making the setting itself the most important character and the people inside of it feel incidental and small. I’m not the biggest fan of ghost movies in the first place, but there’s always been something about The Shining’s almost ethereal feeling cinematography that got me into the mood like very few films have before, and we do get glimpses of that throughout this. That is not enough to give this film a STORY however and on top of that it’s not a particularly SCARY mood that it puts you in. The aspects of this that feel like a standard horror movie help a bit in this regard by providing some context for the characters and the occasional jump scare to jolt the audience, but it doesn’t really mesh well with the tone and atmosphere being set. The very first jump scare (after the obligatory pre-title set piece which I THINK doesn’t make any sense by the time we get to the ending?) is about twenty minutes into the movie and is utterly laughable. It’s several minutes of characters talking, locations being explore, and relationships being established, and then BLEH! It’s so sudden, out of place, and accompanied by a hilariously excessive orchestral sting, and the saddest part is that the rest of the horror moments in the movie never really rise above that; making the disconnect between these elements and the more detail oriented mood setting elements all the more stark. It’s hard to take a movie as seriously as this one wants us to when it has double (PERHAPS even triple?) fake out dream sequences, some dude who’s like the evilest mix between a pirate and a cowboy looking like a force ghost, and a bunch of Addams Family Thing hands writhing around our protagonist.
So we’ve got a solid amount of mood and atmosphere awkwardly intersecting with some straightforward tropes and typical jump scares, but what is this movie even ABOUT? Frankly, it’s about everything and nothing at the same time, which is what makes it really tedious to sit through. We’ll get to how pointless everything ends up being when we talk about the ending, but the narrative is all over the place in terms of focus, framing, and characters. Something that’s caught a whiff of controversy about this is Finn Wolfhard’s character who is a TOTAL creep throughout (think of a teenage version of Macaulay Culkin’s character in The Good Son), and while I don’t necessarily agree that it’s bad for the MOVIE to have the character act like this (bad characters do bad things), the guy is all over the map in terms of goals, motivations, and actual plot relevance that it’s really easy to just isolate individual things he does as needlessly skeevy. Perhaps it works better in the book because a lot of this movie has the air of something trying to get to the highlights people remember while cutting short the character work around it, and it’s not like the film is devoid of good ideas; it’s just that he execution leaves a lot to be desired. The dark history of the house is undercut by the cheesiness of the ghosts doing the scaring, there is a noticeably long sequence where a character lays out the house’s geography despite it never really being a factor, and we even get a big of family history that winds up having nothing to do with what’s going on right now in the house. There are a lot of threads to be sure, but nothing significant enough to really grab onto.
So this is where I was at for most of the movie; trying to pull out the good parts and hoping that the bad and misguided parts were all just setting up an interesting ending. We’ll have to get into some VERY light spoilers here to go any further, so turn back if you don’t want even a clue as to what happens.
We good? Alright, so the problem is that the movie simply doesn’t have an ending. Not that it’s an AMBIGUOUS ending or anything like that as the implications as to what is going on is somewhat clear (which if true are a pretty big stretch to call it the titular turning), but we don’t come to it in any really satisfying way. It essentially turns literally EVERYTHING we’ve seen up to this point into red herrings; Finn Wolfhard’s crappy behavior, the intrigue regarding Flora and if something happened to her, even the house itself and the ghosts within it. If my read on this movie is true, this movie could have just as easily taken place inside a McDonald’s for all the purpose everything else serves here. And on top of that, the ending is presented in the most ludicrously unsatisfying way possible; cutting to credits IN THE MIDDLE OF A SCENE! Not even like a decisive scene in any real way, but a scene that could have easily happened at any other point in the movie. In fact, we saw scenes JUST LIKE THIS ONE throughout the movie where Kate is confronting the kids in a non-decisive and almost embarrassing fashion, so what is the significance here? We couldn’t have even ended with a slow fade to black or the camera pulling back to signify the credits are about to roll? No, it’s just yelling, a character yelping for half a second, then credits; like the movie was embarrassed to be on screen for another second. I’m actually curious what others think about this because this was one of the most baffling moments I’ve had with a film in quite some time, and considering The Grudge’s disappointing ending and ESPECIALLY having seen Cats in all its horrifying glory; THAT is saying something!!
As much as that ending let a terrible taste in my mouth, I do find something fascinating about this movie. I kind of what to know exactly what went wrong here and might even check out the book to get a bit of context, so if nothing else that’s a small spark of interest it can inspire in dedicated enough fan nerds. For everyone else, it’s an easy pass. Don’t waste your time seeing this in theaters, even if you are interested in it as a train wreck. Trust me, the eventual blu ray release with whatever bonus features they’ll deign to put on there will be much more “educational” than paying to see it right now when you COULD be seeing Bad Boys Forever or just saving up for when the January doldrums are over. Heck, save your money to see Sonic the Hedgehog! It’s probably not going to be any good, but at least it’s not pretending to be otherwise!