Leaving her teaching job for a live-in position at the formidable but remote Fairchild Estate, Kate Mandell is keen to emphasise that the role is as a private tutor rather than a nanny for young Flora, an orphan since the death of her parents in a car accident at the gates of the house which she witnessed, but needs of the traumatised girl are far more than the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
After a frosty greeting from housekeeper Mrs Grose, who makes it clear that she is in charge and sets policy while Kate is merely engaged in specific duties, Kate’s efforts to befriend Flora are made harder by the unexpected return of Miles, expelled from boarding school, resentful and hostile, yet impossible of doing wrong in the eyes of Mrs Grose, and her own increasing sense of unease in the house.
Flora’s previous tutor, Miss Jessel, having vacated her role without notice or explanation, simply vanishing into the night, Kate’s dreams begin to conjure nightmarish images: is it her own misgivings and doubts expressing themselves, are the children conspiring against her, either playfully or maliciously, or is there some dark secret within the expansive grounds of the estate which seeks her as its latest victim?
Directed by The Runaways‘ Floria Sigismondi and adapted by The Conjuring‘s Chad Hayes and Carey W Hayes from Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, the action is switched to America for The Turning and shifted to 1994 for no apparent purpose other than to include a soundtrack recalling the music videos Sigismondi directed for in that era while still retaining the trappings of the most famous version, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, the mansion anachronistically filled with stuffed animals and rocking horses.
Filmed in County Wicklow, Ireland, the house and grounds are the star of the film, misty garden mazes and stagnant ponds under the leafless branches of the trees, but Terminator: Dark Fate’s Mackenzie Davis is poorly served by the script, unconvincing as a teacher as she never gives a single lesson, and rather than being creepy and wise beyond his years It‘s Finn Wolfhard presents Miles as a spoiled child who in a more traditional telling would have been sent to bed with no supper for his petulant behaviour.
Their presences opposite ends of the spectrum as Flora and Mrs Grose, Brooklynn Prince and the imperious Barbara Marten do their best to carry The Turning but rather than building atmosphere Sigismondi has them compete against apparitions in every reflective surface as the characters run through the dimly lit corridors in in the futile hope they might find something more substantial than jump scares yet fail to even locate so much as the hairbrush so desperately needed by Davis.