‘The Turning’ is a Workmanlike Piece of Gothic Horror Until It Is Overcome by an Astoundingly Abrupt Ending

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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

Movie Review: For Better and Worse, ‘IT: Chapter Two’ Goes Full Stephen King

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CREDIT: Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros.

Starring: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff

Director: Andy Muschietti

Running Time: 169 Minutes

Rating: R for Bloody Clown Chomps, A Few Stabbings, Nervous Vomiting, and Creepy Nudity

Release Date: September 6, 2019

IT: Chapter Two is solidly built upon a foundation of a melancholy truth about human existence. When we’re young, we may vow to keep what’s important to us as children just as important when we became adults. But somehow, some way, we all forget some of the things we once held dear, while also remaining stuck in some of the patterns we thought we would eventually grow out of. The Losers Club of Derry, Maine represent the epitome of this mercurial attachment to the past. And so it is that 27 years after their first series of misadventures, they must return to once again defeat the supernatural evil entity that terrorizes their hometown.

This melancholy setup is an apt formula for psychological agony mixing with real in-your-face terror, but the trouble with Chapter Two is that so many of the scares are so scattered from the overarching purpose. Winged insect-bird hybrids popping out of fortune cookies and an old naked lady who turns into a floppy-breasted gargoyle are plenty creepy in and of themselves, but these moments just keep piling onto one another as a series of random horror set pieces, and the effect is eventually exhausting. Even some of the moments that actually feature Pennywise (like a gay couple being beaten up by a mob only to then fall victim to the clown or a cute little girl bonding with Pennywise over facial deformity) are effective mini-movies unto themselves, but they could have easily been cut without losing the main thread involving the Losers. Their story of coming to grips with what won’t leave them alone is effective when the full-to-bursting script actually focuses on them. Ultimately, IT: Chapter Two is decidedly overambitious and overdramatic, but it is a fascinating mess, embracing Stephen King at his weirdest and most extra.

IT: Chapter Two is Recommended If You Like: The most unfiltered Stephen King adaptations

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hidden Memories

This Is a Movie Review: IT (2017)

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

I am surprised that I haven’t come across more (or any) takes of IT that talk about how big a deal abuse is. Because as far as I can tell, that is what the whole thing is all about. Like, I’m pretty sure Pennywise is a metaphor for an entire town poisoned by a legacy of abuse. And that is what makes this movie scary. Every member of the Losers Club has a home life that ranges from sad to actively dangerous, and then when they go out into town, they are beset by shockingly violent bullies, who themselves are the victims of brutish parenting. It makes sense that Bill steps up as the leader, as the worst his dad does is refuse to confront his family’s loss head-on. The relative stability in that unit is allowed to be rocked by the death of younger brother Georgie because abuse has a long tail.

IT often presents its abuses and the responses to it with some combination of baroque and grotesque. Bev’s sexual advances from her father are met with their bathroom being filled with buckets of blood. Eddie’s mother, who fuels his hypochondria, is not just obese, she is so abnormally shaped that it looks like she has a bunch of balloons under her dress. The evil in IT is both morally and aesthetically ugly. In the town of Derry, it only makes sense that a force of pure evil would take the form of a smiling, dancing clown.

I give IT (2017) 400 Floats of 500 Too’s.