CREDIT: Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Starring: Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince, Barbara Marten, Joely Richardson

Director: Floria Sigsimondi

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for General Spookiness, Fantastically Rude Children, and Artfully Composed Bathtub Shots

Release Date: January 24, 2020

Take a classic gothic horror tale, pair it with a director of classic music videos, and what do you get? Almost certainly a spooky atmosphere. But will the narrative be just as effective? The Turning is based on Henry James’ 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw and it’s directed by Floria Sigismondi, who is best known for colorful clips like Katy Perry’s “E.T.” and Rihanna’s “Sledgehammer.” Perhaps that rock ‘n’ roll background is why The Turning is set squarely in 1994, with the death of Kurt Cobain serving as one of the last moments that Kate (Mackenzie Davis) experiences in the outside world before descending into a pit of terror. She has been hired as a live-in tutor and nanny for a couple of orphans in a perpetually autumnal mansion that looks at least as old James’ story.

Kate is immediately haunted by ghostly visions, and while she generally trusts her own eyes, she has reason to believe that she is just dreaming or that the kids are playing tricks on her. While the younger of the two, Flora (Brooklynn Prince), is mostly sweet, the older one, Miles (Finn Wolfhard), is the epitome of disaffected, possibly sociopathic adolescence. The Turning is most effective as a portrait of how hate can linger and infect an entire household, whether or not the phantom sightings are real ghosts. Miles was apparently close with the former groundskeeper, who died in an accident and is described as a brute of a man. Meanwhile, the housekeeper (Barbara Marten), who looks like she’s been there since the house was built, is aware of all of these dynamics but is more concerned about keeping everything difficult under wraps.

For the most part, The Turning is a fairly straightforward, patient (perhaps to a fault) tale about how difficult it can be to escape a toxic environment, even when it is so clear that you must get out. It seems to be heading towards a conclusion that works perfectly fine for such a setup, but then it is interrupted by one of the most puzzling endings I’ve ever seen. This hardly qualifies as a spoiler because it is nowhere near clear what this finale actually is. It’s enough to make you suspect that the last reel of film is missing. (Or, since we’re now in a digital projection era, I suppose the error would’ve been that the last 10% of the file didn’t convert properly.) The closest comparison I can think of is the famously nonsensical ending of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but in that case, it is clear that it was tacked on after the fact and thus easy to dismiss as not really part of the rest of the movie. I would be willing to do the same with The Turning‘s ending, but it very much feels like it is there for a reason. Alas, it’s a reason that never reveals itself. It’s just plain baffling, and thus hard to call this movie anything but incomplete.

The Turning is Recommended If You Like: Leaving five minutes before the ending

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Dead Fish