Jump Into the Prison of Your Own Mind: Our Review of ‘The Turning’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 24, 2020
Jump Into the Prison of Your Own Mind: Our Review of ‘The Turning’

This I swear to you: The Turning will be one of the most hated endings of the year. This I also swear to you: the cool people will recognize its secret brilliance. Which side will you fall on?

I start here, because the literal last frames of The Turning loom large over the film. So large that they’re alluded to mere seconds after the film’s frenetic introduction that sets its plot in motion. There’s a maxim I once heard somewhere that I since cannot recall, but it ostensibly suggests that a good beginning or end can make a film, while the inverse can kill a film. F. Gary Grey’s Law Abiding Citizen probably isn’t deserving of the scorn that I’ve lain upon it, but it’s ending is so much so that I have no remorse for such actions. This makes it tough to review The Turning, as most of my thoughts stems from the ending.

Yet, I probably shouldn’t start here because I must also admit that The Turning is extremely my thing. For the unaware, The Turning is a (loose) adaptation of the classic Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw. Just so we’re all on the same page, a roll call if you must: Mackenzie Davis plays Kate, the governess tasked with taking care of two orphans; the lovely Brooklyn Prince of The Florida Project Fame plays Flora, the young child whose care Kate is tasked with; and Finn Wolfhard plays Miles, a disturbed teenaged boy whose return to the estate they’re all living at causes havoc.

This is my thing precisely because of my soft spot for mental health stories. Somehow, I’ve written roughly 90+ pieces for this site, and have never, I believe, mentioned my tumultuous history with mental health. I’ve spent most of my adult life struggling under the weight of depression. When I see myself in characters, regardless of how “correct” the portrayal may feel, it hits home.

I see a lot of myself in Mackenzie Davis’ Kate, a young woman that director Floria Sigismondi makes sure to tell us right away has a mentally disturbed mother. This has a extremely plot based function, and also, an emotional one. I wanted her to succeed the second we visited her mother in a mental institution; I doubly did when it was revealed that Kate is a school-teacher. More on this in a second.

But first, Floria Sigismondi is the director of The Turning! It took me roughly 400 words to get here, but the fact that the director of the wonderful The Runaways is finally making her follow-up should not be lost in the shuffle. Sigismondi crafts a wonderful period aesethtic here, but not for the period that you would originally assume. Instead of the late 19th century, Sigismnodi updates our story for the late 1990s. Why you may ask? If I can make a grand hypothesis, it is to allow Sigismondi to craft a fascinating soundtrack that is filled with unique 90s grundge sounds. The wonderful Soccer Mommy, for example, provides a brand-new track for the film. Soccer Mommy…I knew there was a reason that I dug this.

Returning to Davis’ Kate, the heart of the educator in me hurt as I was watching The Turning. To be an educator is to exist somewhere between narcissism and insecurity. You need to have self-confidence in your abilities to connect with your pupils as humans, while also having the self-awareness to recognize when you’re not exactly meeting that standard. It’s a devilishly tricky balancing act.

It’s also a balancing act that Kate starts to lose sight of. Davis is one of the more underrated actresses of our time, having the unfortunate luck of either being the lead in mostly forgettable films, or a small bit part in more memorable ones. Those who loved Tully, Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town, and Sophia Takal’s Always Shine, are probably already aware of the Vancouver native’s screen presence. If I can fanboy for just a second, I was ready to declare this a masterpiece from the moment she first appeared on screen in that red sweater with a pair of blue overalls. Such a powerful look…

On that note, two people absolutely deserve recognition for providing innumerable quality to The Turning. The first is Leonie Prendergast, whose wonderful costume design provided innumerable quality looks to all of our three main characters, but mostly, gave Mackenzie Davis a plethora of powerful looks. I mentioned the overalls earlier, but honestly, I want them. Full stop. The other is video colourist Jason Fabbro who makes those aforementioned reds stand out. Red is a motif in this flim, and they bring it to life. It’s a colour of emotion and pain, and Fabbro makes it stand out in all of its glory. The Sixth Sense eat your heart out.

All of this is reminiscent of the wonderful formal qualities that The Turning contains in multitudes. But at the end of the day, this film rides and dies on how painful it is. All good horror films have something painful about them. In actuality, horror films have lots in common with melodramas and their painful emotions. Sigismondi crafts a film about the prisons of our own mind, and somehow, asks us to jump in full force. The Turning becomes about the fantasies we construct for ourselves, and how we lose ourselves in them as time goes by. The cool kids will get this. The uncool ones will get caught up in the literal realities of that specific ending. So, which side will you fall on?

This post was written by
Thomas Wishloff is currently an MA student at York University. He is new to the Toronto Film Scene, but has periodically written and podcasted for several now defunct ventures, and has probably commented on a forum with you at some point. The ex-Edmontonian has been known to enjoy a good board game, and claims to know the secret to the best popcorn in the world.
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